January 05, 2010
ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, as solid a hockey writer as there is anywhere, wrote the other day about being told by a Western Conference official that he wouldn't be surprised if the Hawks got in on the Kovalchuk trade situation, assuming the Atlanta Thrashers decide to deal their star winger. That's not even an official rumor, folks. It's simply an executive telling a writer he wouldn't be surprised if the Hawks inquired about Kovalchuk.
Bingo. While it probably wasn't LeBrun's intention, his speculation about names (Cam Barker(notes) and Kris Versteeg(notes)) may have set the market value for Kovalchuk amongst trade speculators. (So congrats to Pierre on that.) Sassone, on the market value of Kovalchuk as the contract and trade deadlines near for GM Don Waddell:
I'm thinking possibly two top-nine forwards, a defenseman and maybe a high draft pick or two. That's a lot to give up for a guy who might be just a rental.
What's more important, do the Hawks want to risk messing with what might be the best dressing room, chemistry-wise, in the NHL? My guess would be no. This is a great hockey team right now. Would it be better minus, say, Patrick Sharp(notes), Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker, and Kovalchuk in their place? Maybe it would, but maybe it wouldn't.
OK, so Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg are technically "top nine forwards," but is there a chance in hell they'd be shipped out from a first-place juggernaut for a rental? Check that: a rental whose current team has no other option than to trade him, if it comes to that? Was there a Patrick Sharp or Kris Versteeg in the Marian Hossa trade to the Penguins?
The Falconer at Bird Watchers Anonymous nails it in a very good review of the situation from a Thrashers' perspective:
If they Thrashers keep Kovalchuk for the remainder of the season in an attempt to get back to the playoffs they could trade his negotiating rights after the playoffs for a very small return. Or they could try and trade him tomorrow for a modest return. But no matter when they trade him, the return will not be nearly what it ought to be--because they waited too long to cut bait.
The outlook is bleak for the Thrashers. They're either going to commit a large percentage of their payroll to a supremely talented player with one postseason appearance in his NHL career, or they're going to trade him for a modest return. They're either going to pay Kovalchuk what he wants, or risk losing millions in a Tsunami of fan apathy upon his departure.
Don Waddell and Atlanta's fractured ownership have no other option. Testify, Teddy KBG from "Rounders": "Pay dat man his money."