February 04, 2010
There's something strange about calling Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) a "rental." It's technically accurate, but the term makes him sound like Steve Eminger(notes) when actually he's a top five offensive player in the world. (The knocks on his defense are growing at the same rate as the volume of the trade rumors.)
Kamp Kovalchuk has been saying for months that we've never seen a player of this caliber available on the open market, and it's not necessarily hyperbole. Unless they gut their roster to do so, the team that acquires him can legitimately target the Cup this season. It's that big.
Also big: The asking price. The details for some of the potential Kovalchuk trades from his suitors are starting to leak this morning, and they're staggering.
(UPDATE: Via Ben Wright, audio from the Thrashers' media scrum today with Kovalchuk, who said "you never know" when asked if he may still remain in Atlanta.)
(UPDATE 2: Don Waddell puts his cards on the table regarding Kovalchuk contract offers: "Ultimately, we offered Kovy more than $101 million over 12 years, which would have been the highest contract signed by an impending unrestricted free agent in the history of the league. If accepted, this contract would have been the second highest offer ever to any NHL player. We also met his desire to be the highest paid player based on average annual salary with a separate offer of 7 years at $10M per year [$70M]. This offer is $0.5M higher per year than any other player.)
While the rumors business on this trade has been booming to the point of absurdity, there's been some interesting info coming from some of the sources you should trust on this story: the beat writers.
Spector has a good rundown of much of the last 24 hours of reporting and speculation on a Kovalchuk deal. As for the individual teams, here's the latest:
New York Rangers
Larry Brooks of the NY Post called the asking price for Kovalchuk "absurd" and then put some names to that absurdity this morning. According to a source, he wrote on Twitter, the price of renting Kovalchuk would be defenseman Marc Staal(notes) or Michael Del Zotto(notes) plus forward Ryan Callahan(notes)
or Brandon Dubinsky(notes); or, Brandon Dubinsky and either 2009 first-round pick Chris Kreider or U.S. juniors captain Derek Stepan or center prospect Evgeny Grachev(notes) plus a draft pick. (Ed. Note: Misread the Brooks tweet; Dubi in the second option.)
Brooks says "no deal," and the asking price is steep even if the Rangers end up signing him. Of course, signing him to the max deal he's looking for would mean the Rangers would have over $32 million in cap space tied up in Kovalchuk, Marian Gaborik(notes), Chris Drury(notes) and Henrik Lundqvist(notes) next season. And there's no guarantee Kovalchuk wants any part of life on Broadway.
Los Angeles Kings
The darlings of the derby, the Kings obviously have the assets and the cap space and the need for some star power that makes them a potential landing spot for Kovalchuk. Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports has the details on their potential bid:
Kings GM Dean Lombardi has admitted interest in Kovalchuk, but is understandably concerned about tinkering with what appears to be a winning chemistry. According to sources, he does not want to give up a piece he'd really want next year for a player who probably would not return. Right now, that piece appears to be winger Wayne Simmonds(notes), who has shown great improvement over the past season.
Lombardi's offer is believed to focus on forward Alexander Frolov(notes) (himself a UFA) with the two teams also arguing over defenceman Jack Johnson(notes). (The Kings are loaded with blueline prospects.)
Everyone and their mother says that Thrashers GM Don Waddell covets Simmons. Again, it comes down to what the Kings want. If it's a Cup run this season ... well, are they ready, Kovalchuk or not? If it's to make Kovalchuk their franchise player, then the price could be right.
A shutout loss in Edmonton? Oh sweet merciful panic time!
Bob McKenzie had this take on the Flyers' Kovalchuk prospects last night on TSN:
The Flyers are another team that likes to chase the big game, but their cap situation is extremely tight and there's a real legitimate question whether they have the desire or the cap space going forward to sign Kovalchuk to an extension. Still, Flyers' GM Paul Holmgren has been talking a lot to Waddell. The names that keep popping up out of Philadelphia are forward Scott Hartnell(notes) and defenceman Matt Carle(notes), both of whom are under contract for three years and two years, respectively, but Philadelphia would have to off-load more salary than that to make it work.
So there is obviously some interest from Philadelphia but it doesn't "feel" like really intense interest.
Amazing to see Matt Carle go from being passed around by three teams to a potential piece in a blockbuster trade.
The Thrashers are looking to hit a home run with Kovalchuk and are believed to have asked the Flyers for a package starting with Jeff Carter(notes). The Flyers scuttled that request and the Thrashers likely went to Claude Giroux(notes) on their pecking list, followed by James van Riemsdyk(notes) and/or Matt Carle.
Hartnell has a no-trade clause, which obviously complicates things. Carter does not, but all accounts are that the team really, really doesn't want to move him.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils have been sneakily in this mix for weeks. Please recall Waddell getting some attention for attending a Kings game in person ... that happened to be played in New Jersey. Last night, Fire & Ice reported that Thrashers associate GM Rick Dudley attended a Lowell Devils game that was played at The Rock.
Why are the Devils in play? It's obvious: The clock is ticking. Lou Lamoriello has made some moves in the past two seasons -- Brian Rolston(notes), bringing back Brendan Shanahan(notes) for a while, rehiring Jacques Lemaire -- that speak to an urgency to win now. Martin Brodeur(notes) isn't getting younger. Neither is Lou. If this team is going to win another Stanley Cup, there's a rapidly closing window to do so and Kovalchuk exponentially increases those chances.
To those who say Lamoriello doesn't do these trades, we've got two words for you: Doug Gilmour.
Problem No. 1: What the hell do they have to offer from this AHL roster that's on a par with other teams' assets? Problem No. 2: If the asking price for the Rangers was Dubinsky or Callahan, does that mean a Travis Zajac(notes) going to Atlanta? Because it's hard to imagine Lou pulling that trigger.
The Devils are a great fit, but we're baffled how they pay for Kovalchuk.
Another team starved for goals, but one balking at the asking price. As of now, they aren't being "aggressive" in the pursuit, according to the Boston Globe:
"Have the Bruins shown some interest? Yes, absolutely,'' said one of the sources. "And the chances of [Kovalchuk] being dealt have increased in the last week, from about 50-50 to 70-30, maybe better. But it's not a done deal yet and thus far Boston really hasn't been in the thick of it. They're in it, with 7-8 other teams, but their offer hasn't been near the top. I suppose that could change, but . . . ''
So that's the field. Teams like the Vancouver Canucks are sniffing around, according to several reports. The Chicago Blackhawks and the Calgary Flames have been ruled out by some, while others say they're in play.
For further reading, we recommend Brian McNally's piece for the Washington Examiner regarding hockey in Atlanta, Thrashers writer Ben Wright's "Guide To Kovalchuk Rumors" and Ice Man's sad ditty about the next Atlanta captain in the A.K. era.
Every indication this morning is that a deal isn't imminent, but conditions can change. He's practicing today with the Thrashers, so keep an eye on the AJC's hockey blog for more information after that's finished.
Finally: Round of applause to Don Waddell for getting the information about trading Kovalchuk out there to juice the offers. It appears it's worked, and it appears the comparison between this and the Marian Hossa(notes) trade will be that of a Mega Millions jackpot and a scratch-off ticket. Now it's just a matter of Waddell picking the right offer, and it's not like the guy has a ton of good faith built up to that end.