At the end of last season the superstar winger, named captain in January after the team had gone most of 2008--09 without one, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "We need to sign some free agents, spend some money.... I don't want to compete just for the playoffs. I want to compete for the [Stanley] Cup." G.M. Don Waddell got the message, trading for Toronto's $5 million-a-year defenseman, Pavel Kubina, and signing free-agent forward Nik Antropov to a four-year, $16 million contract. After the latter deal was done, Kovalchuk sent his G.M. a text that read, "Great job."
As well as adding offense, the presence of Kubina (6'4", 245) and Antropov (6'6", 230) make Atlanta a more imposing team—a boost for Kovalchuk, who is often targeted by opposing roughnecks. Waddell has taken pains to satisfy Kovy, whose contract expires on July 1 and whom Waddell desperately wants to keep. Atlanta is a long, long way from Kovalchuk's goal of competing for the Cup; if he doesn't re-sign, they'll be further still.