Usually when someone departs us, euologies are said, wreaths are lain, tears are shed. Anniversaries – at least the first ones – usually get that treatment too. So what of ilya Kovalchuk’s one year anniversary of departing the Atlanta Thrashers? Will there be flowers strewn on the ice at Philips Arena in some sad, depressing ceremony of what might’ve been?
It’s perfunctory that I, and every other Thrashers blogger note this day. I almost have to point out that the Devils are still in second to last place in the Eastern Conference – a full eighteen points behind the eighth place Thrashers. I have to do the standard chuckle when I recount Kovalchuk’s stats for the season – fifteen goals and sixteen assists. I have to remind Devils fans that hey, he made your team better about as much as he made our team better, but we got him for (basically) free, while New Jersey had to sell the farm and some good building blocks.
I’ll pour a 40 out for you later tonight, k?
All that is valid for a Thrashers fan to do, but as Craig Custance pointed out today, the Thrashers are exactly one point better and one position better this year than they were last. The fact that the Thrashers aren’t still closer to the top of the Conference standings comes from a lack of goalscoring recently – which Kovalchuk could have added to. To say that Ilya’d put us into the playoffs this season with goals alone (and he would be scoring more with the Thrashers than the Devils – that is practically a given considering the styles of the two teams) is slightly misleading. If we still had Kovalchuk, we also would not have Oduya, Bergfors and Cormier, and there runs a possibility that we would not have Ladd, Byfuglien, or Sopel either. This team would be last season’s team – unable to right the ship, unable to play with any spark or strength whatsoever. Whether this season’s Thrashers team can fix this season remains to be seen, but it is evident that they can play with more swagger and skill than they ever tried to do last year.
I doubt that a careful explination of point totals from this year to last can persuade a Thrashers fan that they were as well off with Kovalchuk than without him. Maybe it’s psychological – maybe we want a clean break, or a chance to prove to him, New Jersey fans, and the pundits who said that the Thrashers were finished after he left just how strong of an organization this is. Perhaps Thrashers fans are stubborn. Honestly, numbers are only a part of this issue. Feeling can’t be quantified, and this has felt like a team, not like a Kovy and pony show, since he left.