Dream or Reality: Could Ilya Kovalchuk Actually Become a Toronto Maple Leaf?

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IJanuary 20, 2010

ATLANTA - JANUARY 14:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the Atlanta Thrashers reacts after scoring a goal against the Buffalo Sabres at Philips Arena on January 14, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It's a question that most teams are asking themselves these days, ever since the Atlanta Thrashers and their superstar, Ilya Kovalchuk, have been rumoured to be extremely far apart on a new contract extension.

Could Kovalchuk actually be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Of course, not every team is asking themselves if he would go to the Leafs, but you know what I mean; there isn't a single team in the league who wouldn't want the Russian sniper suiting up for them.

But when it comes to the Leafs, and more importantly Brian Burke, the question is do they actually have the personnel it would take to snag Kovalchuk? It's possible, sort of, but a lot would have to happen before they could even consider it.

First of all, Burke must decide who is staying with the Leafs after the season and who is leaving town. Two big names that are certainly on the top of the Leafs re-sign list have got to be Jonas Gustavsson and Ian White. Both are young players not yet in their prime, and both will be looking for a pay raise if they're to stick around.

Re-signing those two players to bigger contracts means less money in the pot for Kovalchuk, who is looking for a contract in the 10-year, $100 million range, but there is no shortage of ways the Leafs will save money at the end of this season.

Vesa Toskala's $4 million contract runs out at the end of this season, as does the oft-injured Mike Van Ryn's $2.9 million contract. Throw in Matt Stajan ($1.75 million), Alexei Ponikarovski ($2.1 million), and Lee Stempniak ($2.5 million) all coming to the end of their contracts, and it's clear the Leafs have the opportunity to let players go and free up over $12 million in cap space.

Obviously they'll have to use some of that money to either re-sign those players or pay new additions, as well as consider the salary cap dropping next season, but it looks as if the Leafs could cough up enough dough to pay the goal-scoring assassin.

Another issue they face, and quite frankly the biggest one, is who they would give up in a trade to acquire Kovalchuk.

And we'll start with the one guy everyone thinks about when the word "trade" is said in Toronto: Tomas Kaberle. He would have to be in a deal, no questions asked, which is a major issue because he has that ever-popular no-trade clause in his contract.

And if he's going to be asked to waive it, you would hardly think Atlanta would be a place he'd want to go. Actually, let me answer that for him. There is no way Kaberle would want to play in Georgia—because really, most people there aren't even aware they have a team!

But if Burke somehow convinced him to waive the no-trade, whether with the use of drugs or not, another issue would remain—the Leafs have no valuable draft picks this year or next, and you know the asking price would include at least one first-round pick.

That is a problem, since Burke gave up the Leafs 2010 first and second-round pick along with the first-rounder in 2011 for Phil Kessel. So unless Burke unloads the Leafs third-round picks for the next 13 seasons, they're beat in that sense.

So, for the purpose of this article having any point, we'll just say that Kaberle accepts a trade to Atlanta, and they don't ask for a draft pick (yeah, right). The Leafs would still need to give up more if they were even to get a sniff at Kovalchuk.

Some offense, of course, probably in the form of Niklas Hagman or Jason Blake (or both) as well as at least one prospect. That prospect could be Viktor Stalberg, or one of the many other young men who haven't stepped foot on the ice for the Leafs yet, like Chris DiDominico.

So if the Leafs were to make a trade along the lines of Kaberle, Hagman, Stalberg, and another prospect, it could be possible, although there will most likely be much better offers from other teams dangling those beloved first-round picks.

All in all, Burke would have to work some serious magic to make this trade happen before the trade deadline in March, and though it's highly unlikely he would come to the Leafs, it's still possible.

He's arguably the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL right now, with a lethal shot and untouchable speed, who would be worth giving up almost any player in on your team for, especially when it comes to teams like the Leafs.

But since this story is far from over, fans in Toronto will have to wait and see what happens in this latest superstar contract saga. But even if it's just a small glimmer of hope for fans to see Kovalchuk in blue and white before season's end, the image of having a first line consisting of him and Kessel, two snipers, is only going to get stronger as the trade deadline gets closer.

It's likely a dream never to come true in Leaf Nation, but like so many other stories to come and go, the talk will not stop until Kovalchuk is shaking hands at a press conference, either in Atlanta or somewhere else.