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Tales of what could have been: Ilya Kovalchuk plays in Los Angeles… Against the Kings

Oct 30, 2010, 9:10 PM EDT

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The 2010 summer of free agency wasn’t very kind to the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings were poised to become the next team to make a big run and were viewed to be one major acquisition away from becoming a favorite for the Stanley Cup in 2011. The Kings and their general manager Dean Lombardi were one of the major pursuers for Ilya Kovalchuk over the summer, along with the New Jersey Devils, and ultimately came up well short of their goal of landing the superstar forward.

Being out of the salary range of the Kings has left many Kings fans upset that Kovalchuk turned them down to stay in New Jersey. Rudy Kelly of SBNation-Los Angeles is here to say to Kings fans, “Leave Ilya alone.”

I know we were all disappointed when Kovalchuk did sign with New Jersey, but some folks have gone overboard. Some folks are white-knuckled with rage, denouncing Kovalchuk from rooftops while languishing in the Devils’ recent misfortune. Some are even planning on booing Ilya Kovalchuk in tonight’s game. Friends, that is the wrong tack to take. Booing Kovalchuk would only reinforce in Kovalchuk’s mind all the reasons he chose not to come to Los Angeles and the fans themselves would only be eating sour grapes. It would be tactless and only poison the atmosphere of the game.

Yes, the deal Kovalchuk signed in New Jersey did end up violating the CBA and he was forced to sign a new one. Yes, Kovalchuk’s team may be in last place and yes, Kovalchuk may have been benched recently for missing a team meeting. These are all bad things and in retrospect Kovalchuk may have made a poor decision. But that only serves to prove that Kovalchuk is human. If you cut him, does he not bleed? If you score on him, does he not curse? If you take the puck into his zone, does he not backcheck? …Wait, he doesn’t do that one. He does the other ones though.

All right, so Rudy’s having a little bit of fun here with everything and how can you not? The Devils are off to a brutal start to the season while the Kings have started off things in a big way without Kovalchuk leading the way. Instead, the Kings’ own off-season acquisitions are filling in admirably in defenseman Willie Mitchell and forward Alexei Ponikarovsky. If we were to judge how a team’s off-season went after less than ten games we’d be both stupid and saying that the Kings came away the big winners over the Devils.

Instead, we’ll see how things play out at the end of the year to see if the Kings and Devils were able to improve themselves upon how they each finished last season. For both teams, that means making it past the first round of the playoffs. Whether or not Kovalchuk can do that for New Jersey and if the Kings more team-centric model can propel them to greatness.

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