October 30, 2010
It's a classic setup for a night of fan vengeance: Superstar free agent spurns the local team for an absurd contract elsewhere, potentially using said local team to juice the asking price.
Then you add in the intangibles: The local team even courted this star with a collegiate sports-like "recruiting tour" of the facilities late in the negotiation; and then this star ended up signing an absurd contract whose rejection by the NHL turned him into an symbol of avarice and a target of scorn for many who follow the League.
For Ilya Kovalchuk(notes), it's an uncomfortable night: Skating into Los Angeles after spurning it, as a member of the second-worst team in the NHL against what is the second-best team in the NHL, the Kings.
But for the LA fans ... well, Coach Terry Murray isn't expecting much of a reaction, actually, according to LA Kings Insider:
"I don't think anybody knows about it around here, quite honestly. A few of the players know. Brownie and Greener picked him up downtown and took him out to dinner one night, but that's the extent of it. I went out and had a cup of coffee with him - I had to buy it - so that was the extent of his time around here. He's a player on the New Jersey Devils. We have awareness to him. He's a great player. He has had an impact on a lot of games in his career, so we've just got to be ready to play against the New Jersey Devils tonight."
Video of the Murray interview is here. "I had to buy it" might be one of the best Kovalchuk slams of the season.
Will the fans boo? Are the fans indifferent? Or are there just too many other considerations tonight than to focus on the One That Got Away?
It's Mattias Norstrom(notes) Night. The former Kings captain will be honored in a pregame ceremony and the following Los Angeles Kings will be there to celebrate him: Luc Robitaille, Rob Blake(notes), Ian Laperriere(notes), Glen Murray(notes), Derek Armstrong(notes), Jamie Storr, Mathieu Schneider(notes) and Nelson Emerson. Plus, the first 10,000 fans are getting a "Mattias Norstrom Night Rally Towel." And who has time for jeering when one has a commemorative rally towel to admire?
The Kings Are Really, Really Good, and Glad To Be Home. Los Angeles is 7-3, on top of the Western Conference and playing its first game at Staples Center since Oct. 20. It's going to be a night of good vibes, as least to start.
It's the Game Before Halloween. Which means it's also the game before Halloween for the Ice Girls. Which means what happened last year will likely happen again. Which means Kovalchuk will be the last person on the minds of most fans in the stands:
That isn't to say that Kovalchuk will be ingored. He'll get a reaction, for sure. But the fact that he's on a team having a hell of a struggle while the Kings are winning obviously blunts the daggers.
From Mayors Manor, which had a nice survey of experts on Kovalchuk's return, including Kelly Hrudey and John Buccigross:
The entire summer romance - er, courtship - between Kings GM Dean Lombardi, Kovy, his agent Jay Grossman and all the parties involved has been chronicled to death. By now, everybody knows how it all turned out. Similar to the Rob Blake situation, fans appear to be split into two camps - some feel rejected (they're angry), others are glad he didn't sign here (they're happy, or at least neutral).
Safe money is that they'll boo. But based on how things have gone for both parties, pointing and laughing in a Nelson Muntz-esque manner. would probably suffice.