Ilya Kovalchuk's Impact on Atlanta Thrashers: Could He Have Made a Difference?

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Ilya Kovalchuk's Impact on Atlanta Thrashers: Could He Have Made a Difference?
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Tuesday May 31st, 2011 will be a date forever etched in the memory of the Thrashers faithful; it was the day NHL brass announced Atlanta’s relocation back to Winnipeg.

As a hockey fan myself, I would not be able to fathom the idea of losing the team I grew up watching or whose logo I bared on my chest for years on end. On the other hand, I also cannot imagine the euphoric feeling the citizens of Winnipeg have been experiencing over the past week.

There are plenty of factors as to why the team relocated. The team’s value was steadily deteriorating and from a fiscal standpoint it made no sense for Atlanta Spirit ownership to keep the team.

According to Forbes.com, the team’s revenue was slowly increasing from $58M in 2001 to $71M in 2010. Their value reached its climax in 2008, at an estimated $158M. However, in January, 2011, ownership announced it had lost over $130M in the past six seasons and that they would seek new investors. Many local investors claimed they would do what they can to keep the team in Atlanta, but to no avail.

True North stepped up and the birds flew north to Winnipeg.

Recently however, I stumbled upon this idea that perhaps this team could have been kept around had they had a player or two who was marketable enough to interest a local buyer. Looking at the roster though, there was not that big of a selection. Sure, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane and Tobias Enstrom are all great, but they are not among the elite (at least not yet).

Not too long ago, however, Atlanta did have that player. His name was Ilya Kovalchuk.

Drafted by the Thrashers first overall in 2001, he became the face of the franchise right off the bat, producing two 50-goal seasons and three 40-goal seasons throughout his tenure.

In the summer of 2010, Kovalchuk left the Thrashers for the New Jersey Devils, signing a 15-year, $100M contract.

Is it a coincidence that less than a year later the team finds itself moving cities? Perhaps not, but perhaps yes.

Being considered as one of the top players in the league does wonders in terms of marketing. Fans flock to arenas to see a star showcase his talents, and that was often the case with Kovalchuk in town. Without that viable asset, why would a local buyer consider spending millions for a franchise that has only proven to be a money burner?

Also, if the team was able to keep guys like Marian Hossa or Dany Heatley around, would that have made a difference too?

Playing in only four playoff games and not winning a single one definitely does not help either.

Food for thought, what do you think? Was this team destined for failure? Could one or two stars have helped them out?

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