In my mind Ilya Kovalchuk and Rick Nash will always be connected as two of the wasted talents of this generation. Their careers are far from over but having used up their youth as the faces of two of the league's most moribund franchises I feel confident making that claim.
You could argue that a bigger problem is at the root of this. Without Gary Bettman's ridiculous overexpansion Nash doesn't end up on a talent deprived Columbus team and Kovalchuk doesn't have to waste away playing in Atlanta's ghost-town (err… downtown) arena. How can the NHL even market these players when no one knows what the crap a Thrasher or a Blue Jacket even is? They could have been called the Dirty Birds and the Windbreakers for all any fan cared.
Now the Dirty Birds have been moved to Winnipeg in a move so sensible it is astounding that Bettman actually allowed it to happen. My inside sources indicate that the hockey hotbeds of Las Vegas, Nevada and Topeka, Kansas were higher up on Bettman's list. Thankfully, logic prevailed, the Dirty Birds are no more and we have the Jets back somewhere that they appreciate hockey.
(I actually have a theory that the Columbus franchise and their dwindling fan base should be moved to Quebec City where they, like the Jets of Winnipeg, could take up their old franchise name the Nordiques. This would work for many reasons up to and including the fact that Nordiques probably means Windbreakers in French so they could just take the current jerseys and slap some fleur-de-lis on them to save money.)
Would Kovalchuk have been a less wasted talent had he spent his first eight seasons in Winnipeg rather than Atlanta? It's hard to say that he wouldn't have been wasted any less but the he could have gained hero status for his goal scoring prowess much the way Selanne did in Winnipeg so many years ago.
The truth is there are probably four too many teams in this league. How Kovalchuk and Nash could have been saved was for there to be no millennium expansion at all. If we avoid that there are fewer NHL teams and thus the talent becomes more concentrated, the quality of play becomes better and maybe we even avoid the lockout. But I digress.
As it stands now, Kovalchuk is no longer a member of the Jets (ne-Thrashers) franchise. However his new franchise is really no better than his old one. A lack of foresight by both Kovalchuk and the Devils (his new team) has led to that team being crippled by his salary and failing to meet their collective goal of contending for the Stanley Cup. In New Jersey Kovalchuk has done no better than he did in Atlanta. To date Kovalchuk and Nash have played in a total of three playoff series, totalling 13 games, with Kovalchuk claiming the lone playoff win between the two of them and that came with the Devils. So in conclusion their talents have easily been wasted, at least by NHL standards.
This is a shame because as the top picks in back-to-back drafts (Kovalchuk in 2001, Nash in 2002) much was expected of them. As individuals they have certainly achieved plenty. They've made All-Rookie teams and All-Star games. They even shared the 2003-04 Maurice Richard Trophy for leading the league in goal scoring. The problem is that every spring their teams have been eliminated.
Having had the misfortune of missing the playoffs so often in their careers both Nash and Kovalchuk have become mainstays on