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Kovalchuk Rumors

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Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa sun writes:

Talk among NHL GMs is that Atlanta might be willing to make a huge deal before the trade deadline. W Ilya Kovalchuk, 25, is a year away from unrestricted free agency and has another season left on his contract at $7.5 million, but the whisper among executives is he might become available. It would be a tough pill for Atlanta to swallow, but Kovalchuk certainly wouldn't be the first franchise player to be dealt.
I really hate having to write about this right now. The Thrashers are playing better than I expected. The last thing the club needs is another black trade speculation cloud hanging over them as was the case last year with all the Hossa talk.

Garrioch has a checkered history of these things. He's been terribly wrong and he's also been correct in the past. On the Thrasher Talons scale of rumor mongers he certainly comes in higher than Eklund.

The problem is this: no matter what the Thrashers say this kind of chatter will be out there until the Kovalchuk either re-signs next summer or a trade is made. There are no magic words that are going to make these trade rumors cease.

Do I believe there have been converstations where Kovalchuk's name was mentioned? Absolutely yes. I'm sure that GMs talk about players all the time just to get a feel for their market value at that moment. I'm not shocked to think that one GM says to another GM "what would you give me for player x?" What really matters is not that a phone conversion about Kovalchuk took place, but how serious that conversation was--and only the two people involved in that conversation know how serious it was.


Would trading Kovalchuk be a good idea? I've gone back and forth on this one to be honest. In my head the case for trading Kovlachuk runs like this: a) his defensive lapses are so bad that I believe he would probably cost his team a goal here and there in a tight playoff series--I'm not sure his offensive talent alone will get your team a Cup. b) Kovalchuk is a great player, but his stats are inflated because the Thrashers give him HUGE amounts of PP ice time. Kovalchuk is not early as effective with his ice time as other top NHL stars. c) The Thrashers are not close enough to contending and he probably wouldn't want to stick around until they are close to contending.

Would a trade help create a contender in this market? From a Marketing Department perspective trading Kovalchuk would be a disaster, but from a Hockey Operations perspective it might not be so bad. Why? The Thrashers will never be able to spend money like the best teams. The best chance to contend for a Stanley Cup is to load up on quality young players and have the team make a run before the core gets really expensive (age 27+). Once you generate some buzz in this market the revenues will increase and the money will be there to pay their salaries. The Thrashers have some good foundational players who are between the ages of 20-25, but the problem is that there are not ENOUGH of them--the foundation is not big enough for a contender. If you deal Kovlachuk for three young players now you might have the foundation for a contender in 2010.

What is the case for not trading Kovalchuk?
If you trade for young players who never make it, then you come up short big time. So far out of the Hossa trade only Colby Armstrong is a clear asset to the current team. Christensen continues his existence as a talented tease, Esposito may or may not become a NHL player and Pittsburgh's 1st rounder draft pick is four years away from playing in the NHL. That's one player and three maybes (and I'm only optimistic about one of those maybes).

The other consideration is that Kovalchuk has begun to show greater leadership skills last season when he carried the team on his back offensively and this season he has shown more improvement on the defensive side of the ice. Ilya will go from a star to a superstar level if he becomes a sound defensive guy. The potential is there, and it is too great to give up on.

What will happen next? If the Thrashers are having serious trade talks that means either that ownership is not willing to offer a $100 million Ovehckin sized contract next summer or that Kovalchuk has privately expressed concerns about re-signing in Atlanta. What I do know that if a decision has been made to move Kovalchuk the team will get the biggest bang for their buck by making a move sooner rather than later. If you trade Kovlachuk with nearly two years remaining, the club that acquires him is going to have two seasons to win him over and get him to re-sign there and thus they will be more likely to offer a better package. Hopefully this is nothing more than the usual slow week rumor chatter and I will not need to write about this topic again.