Ilya Kovalchuk, whom we saw play the other night when the Atlanta Thrashers came to Montreal, is looking for a huge contract in the Alex Ovechkin stratosphere. The $100 miilion figure is now being thrown around. Imagine.
And if contract negotiations fall through with his NHL clyb, Kovalchuk has the option of joining St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL (Continental Hockey League).
I’ve seen several SKA games in St. Petersburg, and I get and don’t get what Kovalchuk might be thinking here. Sure, Russia’s his home, although not St. Petersburg, and of course he’ll be closer to family and friends, and eating food he probably prefers. But the absolute fact remains – the KHL is not the NHL. The rinks aren’t as good, (although St. Petersburg has a nice, modern one now), teams throughout the league often don’t sell out, the quality of hockey is inferior, and even the travel doesn’t measure up. I don’t know about now but it was only a few years ago that Aeroflot would oversell their seats and allow extra passengers to stand in the aisles.
In general, going there isn’t going to the big leagues, at least not yet. It would be like a star baseball player leaving the Yankees to play in Japan. Or a big-time soccer player packing it in with Manchester United to play in North America.
If Kovalchuk moved to St. Petersburg, he might want to consider living in one area especially, the centre of the city near Nevsky Prospekt, the main downtown artery. This is where canals run through, where the city reminds one of Paris, is its’ most cosmopolitan part, and where world-class hotels and astonishingly beautiful buildings sit. It’s where the most expensive real estate in the city is found, and where basically, especially for a young guy like Kovalchuk, all the action is. Boris Mikhailov, who captained the 1972 Russian squad and became coach of SKA before the KHL came into being, has a pad just off Nevsky with an indoor swimming pool. This is what I mean for a guy like Kovalchuk with a bunch of millions in his wallet.
Much of the rest of St. Petersburg isn’t at all like the Nevsky area, and the suburbs can be slightly less lovely indeed. It’s not Atlanta, that’s for sure. It’s where working-class Russians do their thing day in and day out, riding the subways throughout this massive and sprawling city, avoiding the street hustles, just trying to survive in a concrete jungle. Sounds like it could be Atlanta but trust me, it’s not.
Russians are lovely people, generous and kind, but just not always outside their homes. And one thing you don’t do in St. Petersburg is wear white running shoes, because they’ll be black in a day or two from the grime that envelopes the area.
I don’t understand any player bolting the good life of the NHL for the KHL, unless of course there was no team here showing interest. But that’s not Kovalchuk’s situation. He’s a young sensation who probably hasn’t even reached his prime yet. He’s living the good life, the great life, with the Atlanta Thrashers, a team who doesn’t want him to leave.
This must be some kind of hardball-playing by Kovalchuk and his agent to get the contract he’s looking for with the Thrashers. The thought of “pay me or I’m out of here.”
I love St. Petersburg, it’s a fascinating place. But Ilya, stay where you are. You can always go home to the motherland in the summer.