Ilya Kovalchuk's Return To Atlanta Creates Controversy

Warren ShawCorrespondent IIApril 7, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 02:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Chicago Blackhawks at the Prudential Center on April 2, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. The Hawks defeated the Devils 2-1 after a shootout.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Ilya Kovalchuk’s return to Atlanta’s Phillips Arena to play his former team was not a hero’s welcome.  

There was no reason for it to be given the circumstances surrounding his departure to the New Jersey Devils

Kovalchuk was traded as a last resort by team management to avoid receiving no compensation if the team was unable to come to contract terms that the star forward wanted. 

He turned down a $100 million deal and a shorter term seven year $70 million dollar offer from the Thrashers.  Kovalchuk who is still unsigned becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.  

Not surprisingly, the fans that paid for a ticket to witness his return were not in good humor. Boos could be heard loud and clear each time Kovalchuk touched the puck.  

The Thrasher’s officially lost any hope of making the Stanley Cup playoffs losing to New Jersey 3-0.  Martin Brodeur earned another shutout while providing the Thrashers a textbook lesson in team defense. Kovalchuk was not a factor and did not figure in the scoring.  

The former Thrasher captain and several teammates all had dinner on Monday which had to contribute to Kovalchuk's polite treatment on the ice by his former team.

The game seemed to lack the excitement one would anticipate when a player returns who has been a fixture on the team since he was an 18 year old first round draft pick.   

The long and short of it is that Kovalchuk and his new team will advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs while the Thrashers will be forced to reevaluate the direction of their team.

General Manager Don Waddell and Head Coach John Anderson did a good job with the cards they were dealt assembling a competitive squad and making a serious playoff run. If not for some tough losses and inconsistent goaltending, the Thrashers would likely still be in playoff contention.   

Kovalchuk added to some of the bad feeling by Thrasher's fans by suggesting that the New Jersey Devils organization was superior to that of the Thrashers. When interviewed about his previous comments by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Kovalchuk was more diplomatic.

He praised the New Jersey organization and deflected questions comparing the two teams. "I am looking forward to the playoffs" he said.

The 12,038 Thrashers fans in attendance had the same wish for their team. Maybe "next year" is not a phrase Thrasher career scoring leader Ilya Kovalchuk will have to hear anymore.