It's pretty simple, really. Ilya Kovalchuk is the best player this franchise has ever had. And there is a good chance he will always be the best player this franchise has ever had. Are we upset with how it ended? Of course. Can we blame him for how it ended? Sure. A little bit. Kovy should have been up front and we could have traded him in the offseason for a better package.
But, in my opinion, the way it ended is no reason whatsoever to boo him considering all he did for this franchise. For eight years he gave us everything he had. Mr. Speaker will try and tell you differently, but he is wrong (it's OK though, Speaker, I don't hold it against you). People like to say Kovy checked out his last couple of months here. In his last month with us he had 8 goals, 8 assists, and was a + 1. Not exactly checking out, in my opinion. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get the argument that he was the Captain and his contract might have been a distraction when it was clear he wasn't signing. News flash, this isn't the first time a Captain didn't sign with his team and was traded during the season. The losing streak we had in December had less to do with Kovy's contract and more to do with us just not being all that talented. And if it was a distraction it doesn't say much about the rest of the guys in the room (although I really don't think it was a problem).
As I've said before, if you need to boo tonight and take out some of your anger, direct it towards management. If we had the success of, oh I don't know... say the Devils, over the last 6 or 7 years don't you think when Kovalchuk was offered a $100 million contract he would have said, "Yes please!". The real problem and the real folks that deserve to be booed tonight are the people in Thrashers management that have been here from the start. You know who they are.
You can blame Kovy for not being 100% up front about these negotiations. But you cannot blame him for wanting out of this franchise. He gave us eight years and to put it bluntly, Don Waddell couldn't get it done. Look at the numbers he put up, you can't blame that on Kovy. I wish he was still here and I wish he had said in the offseason it would take a max contract. But he didn't.
In my mind, everything he did for the Atlanta Thrashers the past eight years by far out weighs that disappointment. And when people start to boo tonight, I'm going to applaud and thank him for all the great moments he provided us over the years. They were, in fact, the only great moments. So yes, I'll applaud.
Because he deserves it.