Sunday, January 3, 2010

Setting the Kovalchuk situation straight.

Over the past few months, the Atlanta Thrashers, Ilya Kovalchuk, and his hardball agent Jay Grossman have been engaged in talks about renewing the upcoming unrestricted free agent's contract. The idea for all camps was to resign Kovalchuk in Atlanta, the place he was drafted in 2001. It is the team he has amassed over 600 points for, whom he has notched five straight 40+ goal seasons with two 52-goal seasons mixed in. He was named captain last January and has made it clear he wants to stay in Atlanta.

Here's where things have gotten tricky. The contract would give him Ovechkin-esque money; it's been rumored to be over $100 million over ten years. The Thrashers want the contract to be front-loaded. Kovalchuk's camp wants it to be spread out over the tenure of the deal. Kovalchuk is also uncertain of the Thrashers future in Atlanta; rumors have swirled the team may be moved and the ownership has been in-fighting for years which has only fueled the uncertainty.

Ovechkin money is reasonable for Kovalchuk despite the fact that he is not quite the player that the reigning two-time MVP is. The Thrashers are reluctant to put a quarter of their payroll into one player with the greater interests of the team at stake. Bryan Little, Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Ondrej Pavelec will all be unrestricted free agents in the next two-to-three years. The team needs to be able to keep its core together which could be difficult with a tight budget and that much money wrapped up in one guy. Colby Armstrong, Maxim Afinogenov, and Pavel Kubina will all be unrestricted free agents after this season. The team is heading into a crucial time and still has no playoff wins to show for it's nine years in the NHL; this could be a make-or-break time in the franchises history.

As contracts talks stall, Thrashers GM Don Waddell has given Kovalchuk an ultimatum; he returns to Atlanta on Monday and wants an answer by then. If Kovalchuk does not sign on the dotted line he may be moved briskly as the team is obviously distracted and is currently on an eight game losing streak (0-5-3). This is where things get dicey; the team cannot mess this move up. In the wake of the Marian Hossa trade, where the Thrashers got a third liner (Armstrong), a player they eventually traded (Erik Christensen), a potential bust in Angelo Esposito, and an unproven pick (Daultan Leveille; 29th overall in 2008), they must get a substantial return for Kovalchuk.

Chicago appears to be a front-runner at this point. Reports are stating that Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg could be on the move if this were the case. This deal could benefit Atlanta as they get two solid, young players in return. Versteeg put up 53 points as a rookie last season and is just 23 years old. He is not an RFA until 2012-2013, making him that much more appealing. Barker is not an RFA until then either and is also 23 and is becoming a great young defenseman in the NHL.



Other teams that have expressed interest are Edmonton, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Boston. While Boston has picks that could be enticing, they have only $2 million in cap space and would have to unload some expensive players to make room for Kovalchuk. Blake Wheeler could be a cog in that trade, though unlikely. Los Angeles has the cap space but would likely have to give up an Alexander Frolov or an Oscar Moller to get the deal done. Edmonton's cap space is limited and who is really a tradeable commodity? They probably wouldn't move Ethan Moreau or Shawn Horcoff. Perhaps Andrew Cogliano, Ladislav Smid, and a pick? Atlanta will need to get roster players in return because they sit just a point out of the final playoff spot and cannot fold the season on a Kovalchuk deal. A playoff spot is possibly more crucial than re-signing Kovalchuk; Atlanta fans support winners.

Montreal has been long-linked to Kovalchuk but really doesn't have anything they can move for him. The Canucks and Blue Jackets have been listed as long-shots as well. Vancouver is up against the cap as well and would have to deal a high-priced player. Ryan Kesler would be a nice option but is an RFA next season. Columbus has a lot of cap space and guys like Fedor Tyutin and Antoine Vermette would be nice additions, but is that really what Kovalchuk is worth?

Sizing up all the teams that are in the running, Chicago appears to be a front-runner. Who knows, Kovalchuk may re-sign. A trade would have to bring back proven prospects, not just guys who may pan out. The Thrashers cannot let this hamper their building of a contender; they do have a solid core with guys like Rich Peverley, Kane, Bogosian, Enstrom, and last summer's splash in Nik Antropov.

Things are definitely heating up in Hotlanta and Don Waddell is on the hottest seat of anyone. His previous botched deals; the Hossa trade, losing Braydon Coburn for essentially nothing Alexei Zhitnik, and giving up three picks for a rental in Keith Tkachuk, has set the franchise back. This is a great opportunity for the team to move forward,but a decision is imminent and it must happen NOW. This will undoubtedly be done before the Olympics in February. It may be done by the time the team returns home on Thursday. We will have to wait an see.

4 comments:

  1. If they can get versteeg and barker they should take it, Colby is one of the only players that is actually a decent player moved in a rental deal.

    Examples:

    1. Gretzky to St. Louis. LA gets Patrice Tardiff, Roman Vopat, Craig Johnson and two draft picks.
    2. Hossa to Pittsburgh (with Pascal Dupuis). Atlanat gets Armstrong (one of the few good players ever exhanged in one of these deals), Christensen, Esposito (prospect that was falling fast) and one late first round pick.
    3. Jokinen to Calgary. Matt Lombardi, Brandon Pruist and a conditional 1st round pick.

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  2. I agree with anon. Versteeg is dirt!

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  3. Versteeg is not dirt. First off Versteeg plays without Kane and Toews.

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  4. I think Dave the slave was implying Versteeg is dirty, and that is a good adjective.

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