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Ilya Kovalchuk: Brilliant Past, Uncertain Future

Ilya Kovalchuk looks to finally enjoy a winning season in the NHL Ilya Kovalchuk looks to finally enjoy a winning season in the NHL

The New Jersey Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk is one of today’s most talented NHL players. For nearly his whole career, that talent has been far from the spotlight as the Russian winger has racked up points in the hockey graveyard of Atlanta, where he played for the Thrashers from 2001 until last season. Now he has a chance to make an impact with a competitive team, but it all hinges on the validity of his contract.

The NHL doesn’t like the structure of Kovalchuk’s contract, which front-loads a ton of money on a long-term deal, and means he’ll probably retire on this contract having been paid an annual rate that is inflated compared to what the numbers suggest. It’s an attempt by the Devils to circumvent the league’s salary cap, and it’s got the NHL’s suits up in arms.

But regardless of the state of Kovalchuk’s contract, this is a player who deserves his due. Kovalchuk has piled up 642 points over 621 NHL games, all but 27 of those games played on one of the most hapless franchises in league history – the Atlanta Thrashers.

Of course, New Jersey isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse – they’ve long been a “defense first” type of club - but they are a team that knows how to win. Both the expectation of winning and playing in a structured environment are points of adjustment for Kovalchuk.

In Atlanta, he was basically left to take long shifts and create offense nearly single-handedly. The Devils will expect him to be part of the well-oiled machine, which includes forwards who back check, something alien to Kovalchuk during his Thrashers years.

Last year, for 27 games, everything worked all right. The Devils had a tough post-season, but Kovalchuk contributed at a point-per-game pace during the regular season, and looked like he was going to be a good fit. Naturally a player like that commands a lot of money in today’s marketplace. And that’s where the trouble began this summer.

One way or another, by hook or by crook, the playing status of Ilya Kovalchuk will get sorted out. For hockey fans around the league, that time can’t come too soon. The talk and legal jargon has lost what little luster it ever had, and now fans just want to think about the actual on-ice product.

2010-11 could be a big year for Ilya Kovalchuk. It will be his first full season as a member of the New Jersey Devils, and also his first with any team other than the Atlanta Thrashers. That alone has to be cause for celebration in the Kovalchuk household. But more importantly, this might finally be a chance for hockey fans to get a look at one of the NHL’s most talented scorers as he spreads his wings and makes good on the promise of his potential.

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Last modified on Friday, 01 July 2011 09:31

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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