Let the bidding war begin.
With contract talks between Ilya Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Thrashers reportedly going nowhere, the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent is suddenly at the top of everyone’s wish list. The Los Angeles Kings reportedly sent general manager Dean Lombardi to Atlanta to scout the team and inquire about a potential trade.
Is this true? Someone who actually can find out should find out.
But he is likely not the only GM interested in the Thrashers captain, who has 25 goals this season and has reached the 40-goal mark in each of the last five seasons.
The last time the Thrashers were in this position was two years ago, when the team dealt the similarly-skilled Marian Hossa along with Pascal Dupuis at the trade deadline for Pittsburgh’s Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round draft pick (Daultan Leveille).
While the market may have changed since then, Atlanta is likely looking for a king’s ransom in exchange for its captain. The question is whether anybody is willing to package a similar offer.
Here are some of the potential suitors:
Why they might be interested: Why they might be interested: Reuniting Marc Savard with his former Thrashers linemate would add much-needed firepower to a team that is having trouble finding the net. Last season, Boston’s offence ranked second in the league (3.29 goals per game). But after trading 36-goal scorer Phil Kessel and losing Savard to two separate injuries, the Bruins are ranked 27th (2.48 goals per game).
What they can offer: Having acquired Toronto’s first-round pick in the 2010 and 2011 drafts, Boston, which has nine total picks in the first two rounds of the next two drafts, can put together a very enticing package of picks.
Why they might be interested: The Blackhawks, which advanced to the Western Conference final last season, appear poised to make a run for the Stanley Cup after acquiring Hossa in the summer. They do not exactly need any more offence. And there is the danger that Kovalchuk might disrupt what seems like a cohesive dressing room. But you can never really have enough goal-scorers.
What they can offer: With the contracts to the recently-signed Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith set to kick in next season, the Blackhawks already need to shed salary. So dumping forward Kris Versteeg and defenceman Cam Barker makes fiscal sense.
Why they might be interested: With Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula still injured and Hossa playing in Chicago, Detroit’s offence has been a shell of what it was last season. Kovalchuk would definitely help spark the struggling Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg.
What they can offer: Having finished near the top of the standings for that last several years, the Red Wings do not exactly have any blue-chippers not playing in the NHL. But the team does have young forwards Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, and defenceman Jonathan Ericsson.
Los Angeles Kings
Why they might be interested: Unlike the other teams in this list, the Kings would probably be looking at Kovalchuk as more than just a rental. With an expected cap hit of just US$47-million for next season, Los Angeles will likely be one of the teams able to offer the Russian sniper market value. Adding him to a roster that already includes Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown would instantly make the California club contenders.
What they can offer: Jack Johnson, who was selected to play defence for the U.S. Olympic team, might be expendable. Same thing goes for goaltender Jonathan Bernier (drafted 11th overall in 2006), who is playing in the minors.
Why they might be interested: Pavol Demitra has not played a game since injuring his shoulder in the second-round of last year’s playoffs. So Vancouver, which acquired Mats Sundin around this time last season and is perhaps one player away from making a serious run at the Cup, might in the market for a top-line scorer to play with the Sedins or Ryan Kesler.
What they can offer: The Canucks probably do not want to part with 2008 first-round draft pick Cody Hodgson, who has captain potential. But Michael Grabner, Mason Raymond and/or Steve Bernier could pique Atlanta’s interest.