The 2010 NHL trading deadline is less than two months away, but one player that has been mired in trade rumors all season has been Atlanta Thrashers sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. The 26-year-old forward is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The Bruins, along with the Blackhawks and Kings, have been one the teams most commonly mentioned as possible suitors for the two-time 50-goal scorer, should he reach an impasse in contract talks with the Thrashers and hit the trade market. Recently, other teams such as the Islanders and Capitals have been brought up, but according to a reliable source, those two teams are long shots and the Bruins could very well be major players if and when the Kovalchuk sweepstakes take place.
The Bruins are very interested, but as this source pointed out, the current asking price is too high. Kovalchuk has made it known to the Thrashers and his agent Jay Grossman that if he was dealt, he would not sign long term and instead would test his value on the open market this summer. ESPN's John Buccigross named Blake Wheeler, Tuukka Rask and a 2010 first-round pick (acquired in the Phil Kessel deal) as possible trade bait if the Bruins were to become serious contenders for Kovalchuk.
But according to this source, the Bruins "definitely" won’t part with Rask, the goalie they believe to be their franchise goalie of the future. The Leafs’ 2010 first-round pick is very likely out of the equation as well, unless the Bruins could lock Kovalchuk up. If they can’t move some other salaries, that won’t even be possible.
While going on the record and saying numerous times that he wants to remain in Atlanta for the long term, Kovalchuk reportedly will also only do so at market value, and reportedly, he and Grossman believe market value is $100 million over 10 years.
Thrashers GM Don Waddell repeatedly has said that he wants to keep his franchise player and isn’t opposed to a long-term, expensive contract, and those in the know believe him. But as friend and colleague Lyle "Spector" Richardson reported Thursday, Waddell may have no choice but to trade the Russian superstar because of unstable ownership that seems uninterested in the direction of the franchise. That, as another friend and colleague David Pagnotta pointed out, has been evident in the way the Thrashers owners, Atlanta Spirit, have handled the negotiations with their captain, who is on pace for another 50-goal season and is the team’s all-time leader in goals, assists and points.
So chances are, Waddell has or will very shortly — with the Olympics and then the trade deadline on the horizon — have no choice but to trade Kovalchuk (like in 2008, when the GM dealt Marian Hossa and had to take a less-than-worthy package).
Other GMs, knowing the jam that Waddell is in with ownership, may also be able to pry Kovalchuk away for less than some might expect, just as the Penguins were able to do with Hossa. But still, a major factor will be if Kovalchuk is willing to re-sign with the team acquiring him and which teams will be willing make a move, knowing that he will test the market. There is also the chance, as Mike Brophy of Sportsnet.ca reported Wednesday, that Kovalchuk could go to the KHL in Russia and make the same, if not more, money without giving back in taxes and escrow.
So what does all of that mean for the Bruins? Well, if they decide before March 3 that they have a legit chance at winning the Stanley Cup, maybe they go for it and take the chance that Kovalchuk is a rental. That being said, it is hard for anyone to really see what this current team is capable of with all the injuries they’ve suffered. They are still battling, and if they feel they have enough evidence that a run to the Cup is realistic, GM Peter Chiarelli should tell Waddell that he will listen to any deals that don’t involve Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Marc Savard and the Leafs’ first-round pick this June. Toronto’s first-round pick next season would be fair game, however.
This scenario could enable a healthy Bruins squad with Kovalchuk, Savard, Bergeron, Chara, Krejci, Lucic and their current goalie tandem of Rask and Tim Thomas to have a legitimate chance at bringing Boston its first Stanley Cup since 1972. They also can still build toward the future with what at this point could be a top-three pick in a promising NHL draft in June.
Kovalchuk would most likely choose to walk, and the Bruins, unless they unload some major salaries, wouldn’t be able to afford him. But the Bruins would get a chance at the Stanley Cup and still continue to build a young core, with the aforementioned untouchables all back for next season.