Why Ilya Kovalchuk's case is unique

Updated: July 12, 2013, 2:50 PM ET
By Craig Custance

Slava Kozlov was the guy you went to if you wanted the truth about Ilya Kovalchuk. When Kovalchuk was a young star in the NHL with the then-Atlanta Thrashers, Kozlov was the wise veteran teammate who had Kovalchuk's complete respect and who minced no words when it came to analyzing the forward's game.

If he thought Kovalchuk wasn't focused enough on defense, he said so. If he thought Kovalchuk needed to do more for the team to win games, he let him know.

They were tight, and nobody knew him better.

In January 2009, Kovalchuk was named captain of the Thrashers. He was given a leadership position with the franchise that drafted him, and there was talk of a long-term deal that would keep him in Atlanta for the next decade -- assuming, of course, the team stayed.

That season, he was the only Thrashers representative on the All-Star team, his third career All-Star Game at just 25. Things were looking pretty good for him and his position in the game.

Then, during a conversation I had with Kozlov, a dose of reality was injected.

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