No, Ilya Kovalchuk did not permanently retire from hockey, he just retired from the NHL. I realize that. For Thrashers fans, though, the news today was rough. How rough? Well, first off, in a city that doesn't care about hockey and yet at the same time needs to "get over losing that team," well, look at what's trending:
Again, of course, no one here cares that the Thrashers best first overall pick just quit his NHL job for (probably) SKA St. Petersburg. Nope. Not at all.
The shock here is pretty palpable, more so than you'd expect from a city who lost their NHL team and a city who lost said team's captain over three years ago. Kovalchuk, though, means a lot to Thrashers fans. To many of them who were very young when they started to go to games, Kovalchuk is the Thrashers, more so than any other player.
Enthuasistic young player that lived on the edge? Frustrated older captain that took too much on his shoulders as the team had another losing season? Explosive offensive talent that teased so much great potential? That was Kovy, but at times that was the team, too.
Towards the end of Kovalchuk's tenure, many fans – myself included – grew frustrated with his selfish play that sometimes hampered the team. Looking back on it now, with the benefit of no bias, doesn't it seem like he was trying to be the team? That he was going to have his club succeed whether they wanted to or not? In retrospect that doesn't seem so bad. Many of us were excited at the new start the trade to New Jersey gave the Thrashers, though now it doesn't seem to have given either the Thrashers or the Devils much of anything.
It does give us a chance to reflect on how much fun we all had watching him in the uniform, and how easy it was to support him in last year's Stanley Cup Finals. Time heals all wounds; I'm sure that there will be many SKA St. Petersburg fans created in Atlanta tomorrow.