Keeping Kovalchuk Looks Doubtful, Deal Coming for Atlanta?

In an article from The Fourth Period on Monday evening, reports are that the Atlanta Thrashers are still struggling to come to terms with star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, and that dealing him could become a reality soon.

The article points out that Kovalchuk and his agent are holding out for a top-tier deal; considering the career numbers and his age, 27, Kovalchuk has every right to ask for a big deal. Putting his pending free agency into perspective, other stars have recently received deals that exceed ten years. In Chicago, both Duncan Keith (13) and Marian Hossa (12) have contracts that will keep them in the United Center for over a decade, while stars Alexander Ovechkin (13) and Mike Richards (12) have also inked enormous contracts.

What’s more of an issue for Atlanta than the term of the deal appears to be Kovalchuk’s desire to be appropriately paid throughout the deal. TFP suggests that a 10-year, $100 million contract might be a baseline for negotiation, which could be a deal-breaker for a Thrashers franchise that has ownership and financial issues. As Kovalchuk can become an unrestricted free agent in July, there is certainly a reality that the Thrashers could lose their best player for nothing if they fail to reach an accord or make a trade.

If what TFP is suggesting is true, then the trade market for Kovalchuk could heat up quickly. The Blackhawks are listed as a potential suitor by most analysts, with a number of sites listing Chicago as the front-runner to acquire him. As reported on CommittedIndians previously, one scenario that has been rumored is a package including Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker heading to Atlanta in what would amount to a go-for-broke rental for the Blackhawks. With the Blackhawks needing to move salary off the books after this season, this would bring in an elite scorer and clean up the team’s balance sheet for 2010-11 simultaneously.

The million-dollar question for GM Stan Bowman and others inside the Hawks’ braintrust is whether or not they want to mess with the incredible chemistry on the young team during this season. Barker has missed a handful of games because on a recent injury, and Jordan Hendry has done a more-than-adequate job replacing Barker on the ice. But you can’t just bring in someone like Kovalchuk and slide him onto the third line; he’s one of the best scorers in the NHL. The dynamics of the Hawks’ offense would change dramatically with a move like this, and history has shown in every sport that a fantasy team on paper doesn’t guarantee a championship (2009 New York Yankees excluded).

As the Kovalchuk situation continues to evolve, and as long as the Blackhawks could be a partner in any deal that goes down, we’ll keep an eye on the situation.

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