I know the title of this blog reeks of resentment. Quite honestly, it probably should. While the eye rolling that takes places when I watch an Ilya Kovalchuk KHL highlight isn't entirely a product of him leaving the New Jersey Devils high and dry just two years into a FIFTEEN year contract, the fact that I felt compelled to write about it more than likely is. You see, I have long been over the early "retirement" that sent the Devils careening into a deep dark path of irrelevance that eventually led to a full blown, long overdue rebuild. Full disclosure, the fact that said rebuild has gone so flawlessly - to this point anyway - plays a major part in that. Still, I understand that Ilya Kovalchuk indirectly did the Devils a favor when he decided to flee to his homeland because the longer he stayed the longer he risked landing them in salary cap purgatory with his - apparently inevitable - "homesickness".
Does part of me despise watching Kovy succeed in Russia because Russia isn't located in Newark, New Jersey? Yeah, of course. However, another part of me - a bigger, more "mature" part of me - hates seeing him succeed in Russia because Russia doesn't have any NHL team. It just eats at my overly competitive soul watching a player that's capable of greatness do triple axels to celebrate hat tricks scored against communist beer league benders. It leaves me looking at the sky when he's splintering ankles with inside-out moves that should legitimately be prohibited when playing against such an inferior level of opposition. Ilya Kovalchuk - now assisted by Pavel Datsyuk - is basically running train to the tune of 7 point games and treating each one of those points like it occurred in the waning seconds of a Game 7.
I was as big of fan of his outlandishly cocky stickhandling as anyone else. The clappers so thunderous they could turn the lights out will always have me jumping out of my seat. Even the overly enthusiastic, not-so-borderline obnoxious cellies are one of my most guilty pleasures. It's just that none of it seems right when it comes at the expense of second rate talent. It's feels like the equivalent of LeBron windmill dunking on D-Leaguers in Summer League and then spiking the ball on their chest as he roars in their face. Still incredibly impressive, but in a way that's nowhere near as admirable as it should be. I say this as someone that rebuked every rumor of an NHL return and stated - again and again - that I don't want Kovy anywhere near the Devils if it did come to fruition, the NHL would be better off with him than without him.