I know I promised some KHL hockey observations, and I have many, but in lieu of what has transpired over the last 24 hours I feel it necessary to give some thoughts on the Kovalchuk trade. Fellow Goddess Kaatiya is still in mourning and like most Atlanta fans may be so for quite some time.
Colorado is my team of course, but Atlanta is my second. I love the diversity of the players in Atlanta, the Russians and the Swedes. My pal Salmela is unfortunately gone along with Ilya, but I still love the team.
As hockey fans, we often get attached to individual players. I know I sure do. While some people don’t separate the individual from the team, it’s the whole persona that individual players often bring that endear us to a team or a sport. Ilya was one such person. He was a fantastic player, a kind soul to fans and a wonderful father and wife to his family. People watched him grow up in Atlanta. It’s hard to take that he just didn’t want to be there anymore.
Fans will blame the owners and GM, but really, if he had wanted to stay he would have for the deal he was offered. Yes, people will argue past problems with the team, but with the ownership issue resolved this year, the team went out and got Antropov and Afinogenov per Kovy’s request. And it hurts those of us who truly loved him and believed he wanted to stay in Atlanta for his entire career.
I know, I know. You’re going to tell me it’s just business. But we’re all human. We want to believe that people aren’t just motivated by dollars and really care about the fans and the organizations that have given so much to them.
Despite the heartbreak many of us are feeling, I am a perpetual optimist, and I see much in this trade to be optimistic. Hurt feelings aside, I believe this isn’t the end for the Thrashers, but a new beginning – and a legitmate one at that. One only need to look as far as my number one team, the Colorado Avalanche, to see what a plethora of youthful talent can do for you. A solid goalie (Kari is about ready) and hungry youngsters is how all great teams start. Detroit has proven this time and time again.
Atlanta has made some savvy moves in this deal. Take Niclas Bergfors. He’s one of the top scoring rookies this year in a defensive minded system. Put him with Afinogenov or a passer like Kozlov and watch this kid bloom. Oduya? He’s just the defenseman the Thrashers have needed this year. One can argue this had been the team’s biggest weakness this year. It also doesn’t hurt to have another player of African decent in a city with a large African-American population. The Thrashers need to grow their fan base, and this could help market the team. I don’t want to overplay the ethnic issue, but as a Native American, I can tell you that any team with Natives on it sure becomes more interesting to me and is the reason I came back to hockey in the early 90’s. Then there’s Cormier. Suspension aside, let’s not forget that he was the captain of Canada’s World Junior team this year and is a physical force and exciting to watch.
Finally, and what might get me into hot water, is my response to the fans that are crying foul on the management. Putting the past aside, I can’t fault the GM on this move, as much as I hated to see it happen. Hindsight is 20/20 but I think everyone believed that Ilya really wanted to stay in Atlanta. I’ve seen many fans on message boards saying they will no longer be Atlanta fans because of their disgust with the ownership and management. Yet based on the attendance at games, I wonder how many true fans there really are? Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there is enough corporate sponsorship for the survival of this team (something Winnipeg simply can’t rival – sorry folks,) and that poor attendance isn’t enough to move them, but if you love this team you need to come out and support them. If you claim to be a fan, why aren’t you at Philips Arena for games? If Ilya isn’t enough to bring people out to games, perhaps some exciting, passionate youth who might be willing to get out in the community and sell themselves will do the job.
Only time will tell, but I, for one, am not giving up on the team.