The rumors and talk have started. The source of all of the chatter in the media has been Ilya Kovalchuk’s ongoing contract negotiations with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Kovalchuk, 26, is not far away from unrestricted free agent status. He is seeking a substantial raise and security requesting $11.3 million per year for 10 years. His new request is a significant increase from his current $7.5 million salary, but the whisper among NHL executives is he might soon become available, meaning the Thrashers could trade him before his contract is up.
Brian Startare, a local Philadelphia sports radio host, reported that the Philadelphia Flyers are talking with the Atlanta Thrashers organization about acquiring the superstar forward. He also said that the asking price is expected to start with Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux.
CBS Sports.com and several other media sources including The Atlanta Journal Constitution have each reported similar stories. Jeff Carter has one year remaining on his contract, which pays him $5 million annually through 2011.
Although Carter, 25, is a standout performer for the Flyers, he is not in the same category as Kovalchuk. Carter has scored 216 points including 112 points in 307 games and has produced 12 points in 29 playoff contests. Carter has been frequently mentioned in trade rumors since the Flyers have continued to slide in the standings despite having several impact potential players on their roster.
Kovalchuk on the other hand has scored more than a point a game and over 300 goals playing in 575 games at this writing. He has only appeared in four playoff games scoring one goal and earning one assist. He has won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal scorer and has won three gold and three silver medals in Olympic competition.
It is interesting to consider that the Flyers are already committed to six lucrative contracts (with no-trade and no move provisions) Mike Richards ($5.75 million/10 years), Daniel Briere ($6.5 million/five years), Simon Gagne ($5.25 million/one year), Scott Hartnell ($4.2 million/three years), Kimmo Timonen ($6.33 million/three years), and Chris Pronger ($4.92 million/six years).
With $33 million committed to six players next year and $27.7 million committed to five players in 2011-2012 and beyond, the Flyers will have to struggle to juggle the remaining dollars to sign the rest of the hockey team.
There is little doubt that Kovalchuk is popular with the Atlanta hockey faithful and has carried the team on his back offensively. It is largely due to Kovalchuk’s leadership that the Thrashers are currently looking at a playoff berth. This season he has shown more improvement on the defensive side of the ice and has worn the captain’s C with pride and dignity. If Kovalchuk ever picks up the type of defensive performance exhibited by Hall of Fame captain Steve Yzerman on a consistent basis his stock will be as high as Google.
Atlanta fans and Kovalchuk have experienced the effect of having star performers depart to other teams and place the Thrashers backward in a rebuilding mode. Danny Heatley, Marian Hossa, and Marc Savard would all be great contributors if they were still on the Thrashers today.
Thrasher’s management does not want to take a chance like they did with Hossa and not get equal value. Colby Armstrong is the only contributor to the Atlanta playoff run this year. Christensen and Esposito may or may not contribute any time soon. The first round draft pick they received will not benefit them any time soon either.
League sources say Thrashers GM Don Waddell is prepared to offer a long-term deal in the $100-million range to try to keep the 26-year-old Kovalchuk in an Atlanta uniform for the rest of his career. The only problem is Kovalchuk through his agent is reportedly seeking $113 million for 10 years. That’s more than Alex Ovechkin earns ($9.29 million a season), and as the NHL’s top player, Ovechkin sets the salary bar. It could very well be that Kovalchuk is smartly starting higher to get what he wants.
The truth is that the only people who know what the status is for sure are Kovalchuk, his agent, and the Thrashers' organization management.
The problem is no matter what the Thrashers say, this kind of chatter will be out there until Kovalchuk either re-signs next summer or a trade is made. There are no magic words that are going to make these trade rumors suddenly stop.
The Thrasher fans have their fingers crossed that Kovalchuk and the Thrashers can reach an agreement that benefits them both and allows the fans to buy playoff tickets.