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Garrioch Says Kovalchuk Trade Talk Heating Up

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Thrashers Prospect Annex pointed me to what Bruce Garroich wrote on Sunday:

"Multiple NHL sources told Sun Media yesterday that Thrashers GM Don Waddell has held serious talks with several teams about the possibility of moving the high-scoring winger, who makes $7.5 million (all terms US) and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2009-10 season."

Garroich points to Montreal as a possible trading partner--one that has some expiring contracts which could be dealt to free up cap room and a team that has a bevy of young prospects which the Thrashers would want as part of a major rebuilding process. Personally, I wouldn't be shocked if Edmonton was another possible partner. They have a lot of young talent and they have struggled to score so far this season.

Before we get into the thinking about who could be potentially be traded to Atlanta in a blockbuster deal, let's take a moment to look a hypothetical roster of the 2010 Thrashers and their ages. I'm also going to assume that without Kovalchuk they finish last and get Tavares.

Hypothetical 2010 Atlanta Thrashers
Sterling 26-Tavares 20-Little 22
Machacek 22-Esposito 21-
J. Albert 21
LaVallee 24-Holzafel 22-Armstrong 27
Thorburn 27-Slater 27-
Crabb 27
Christensen 26

Bogosian 20-Hainsey 29
Enstrom 25-
Kulda 22
Zubarev 23-Valabik 24
Oystrick 27

Pavelec 22-Lehtonen 26

Of course not all those prospects are going to become NHL players. But I did this just as a sort of thought experiment to see what the core would look like just by itself. Now to this core you would add the NHL players that would come as part of a Kovalchuk trade (perhaps Chris Higgins and McDonagh or the Koististyn brothers) and the draft picks as well. If the Thrashers also trade Lehtonen and keep Pavelec and Hedberg as their goaltending duo, then you can add another player or pick there.

Furthermore, there would be free agent additions added in the summer of 2009 or summer of 2010. If the NHL salary cap stays flat (which looks increasingly likely) or even declines the Thrashers will have more cap room than nearly any other NHL club. Some free agents might come here simply because Atlanta is in a position to offer them more money.

Would that make the 2010 Thrashers a cup contender? The future is hard to tell but moving Kovalchuk and Lehtonen for more young talent would broaden the base of inexpensive young talent (see Chicago Blackhawks) to which you could add a couple of pricey free agents and suddenly you could have a very impressive squad playing in Philips Arena.

Finally, at the end of his column he makes this less than surprising comment:

"The Thrashers are expected to move D Mathieu Schneider by the March 4 trade deadline. It's believed Waddell has been getting plenty of calls."

If the Thrashers play their cards right they could engage in a genuine rebuild and get quite a haul by dealing Kovalchuk, Lehtonen and Schneider this year. As I've said before, my #1 priority is seeing a Stanley Cup contender in Atlanta. This team will never be able to afford the cap maximum--so any shot at the Cup requires assembling a young squad of players that can contend before too many of the players get expensive. You have to get the maximum return on your investment in player payroll and young talent provides the best route to contending.