Ilya Kovalchuk's Contract Up: Who, if Anyone, Is Going To Win the Sweepstakes?

Ryan PickardCorrespondent IJanuary 27, 2010

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 17:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the Atlanta Thrashers against the Dallas Stars at Philips Arena on December 17, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The craziness that is the NHL trade deadline is in full swing right now. The prized possession this year is Atlanta Thrashers left-winger Ilya Kovlachuk.

Kovalchuk, whose contract is up at the end of this year, is looking to cash in on a big pay day. He has hinted that he is looking to make at least $10 million a year, which is a huge amount in the NHL.

He has also told reporters that if he does not get the contract he is looking for he will head to his home country of Russia and play in the Kontinental Hockey League, which has already offered him a deal.

Kovalchuk has been a premier player in the NHL ever since he broke into the league in 2001 after being drafted first overall by the Thrashers. He certainly has quite the resume. In his short NHL career he has made the All-Star Game three times (2004, 2008, 2009), led the league in scoring (2004), and was nominated for Rookie of the Year.

Kovalchuk has put up 50-goal seasons twice, in 2005 and 2007, scoring 52 goals each year, and has put up at least 38 goals in each year except for his rookie season. What makes him so special is the fact that Kovalchuk has yet to really play with a good team.

He has managed to put up ridiculous numbers while playing with linemates who on other teams would be on the third or fourth line. Much like the Marian Hossa deal a couple of years ago, a team on the brink of the playoffs would almost become a contender overnight with the addition of Ilya.

With all that said here's a look at the teams that are going to be contending for the services of Kovalchuk the most.


Boston Bruins

The Bruins are struggling mightily this year and most of that is due to their inability to put the puck in the net. The Bruins rank dead last in goals scored, even behind the Carolina Hurricanes.

Still, this is a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference last year and has the ability to make a strong push in the playoffs. If they want to make the playoffs, though, they are going to need Kovalchuk.

The Bruins have a lot to offer the Thrashers. They currently hold the Toronto Maple Leafs' first-round pick, which could end up being top three, and they have their own first-round pick. They also have some young talent and the Thrashers are looking to add some young players to their already strong core.

While the deal could help the Bruins get into the playoffs, there is almost certainly no way they could resign Kovalchuk in the offseason. They are as close to the cap as you can come already and they won't want Kovalchuk if they know they aren't strong enough to win the Cup this year.


Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks look like the team to beat in the West this year, although I'm sure the San Jose Sharks will have something to say about that.

After making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last year, they added Marian Hossa in the offseason. It has been clear this year that Hossa was the missing piece they need to make it to the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks have been on a tear for pretty much the entire season, racking up 76 points and have one of the best home records.

This might seem crazy for the Blackhawks to add Kovalchuk considering they are already paying big money to Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa, but just imagine if they added Kovalchuk. They would be the team to beat come April and May.

The Hawks do have guys they can offer that would look intriguing to the Thrashers, including Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg, and Dave Bolland. Kovalchuk would end up being a rental player because there is no way they could possibly re-sign him.

Still, considering they are going to lose some players next year because of cap space, it may be worth it to add Kovalchuk this year and have a great shot at the Cup. Even if they don't add him, they still have a great shot at winning it all this year.


Toronto Maple Leafs

This might seem a little off base, but hear me out. The Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has been thinking about going after Ilya Kovalchuk but after hearing about Kovalchuk balking at an $ 8.5 million deal he has decided he probably isn't going to pursue Kovalchuck.

The Leafs do have some good young guys they could offer the Thrashers and, by getting rid of certain players, they could most likely be able to sign Kovalchuk to a new deal in  the offseason.

Kovlachuk would thrive in a hockey-starved environment like Toronto and, with Brian Burke at the helm, this team will make the playoffs in a few years even if they are really bad this year.

Supposed players being offered are Luke Schenn and possibly even Phil Kessel, the prima donna center traded to the Leafs in the offseason from the Bruins. This trade might be a long shot, but Burke can work some magic at times and we'll see if he can do it again.


Los Angeles Kings

Reports have been coming in that the Kings and the Blackhawks are the front-runners for the services of Kovalchuk at the moment. The Kings are playing some of their best hockey in years, being led by the likes of Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick.

The Kings are a young team and a guy like Kovalchuk could give them some much-needed veteran leadership. He has only been in the league for seven years, but he has been to the playoffs before.

Alexander Frolov's name has been thrown around, along with a first-round pick and a couple of other players. By getting rid of Frolov in the deal, the Kings would free up a lot of cap space and give themselves a good chance at signing Kovalchuk in the offseason.

While not many hockey players picture California as the place to go to play hockey, Kovalchuk could become somewhat of a celebrity playing in Los Angeles.

Don't be surprised if the Kings do end up getting him as they are considered the favorite as of now.


Calgary Flames

The Flames have had their ups and downs this year. They were a very strong team at the beginning of the year but have begun to fade. They are losers of six straight and have had trouble finding the back of the net.

They are currently a point out of the playoffs and have to do something soon if they want to get into the postseason. Kovalchuk would give them the scoring threat they need and would help them to be able to make a strong playoff push.

A name that has been thrown around for Kovalchuk is Dion Phaneuf. The physical defenseman would be a great addition to the Thrashers. He is only 24 but has already been a finalist for the Norris Trophy (for top defensemen) and a two-time All-Star.

The Thrashers would be able to sign Phaneuf to a long-term deal with the cap space they would free up by trading Kovalchuk. While the Flames aren't considered front-runners it is a possibility that he ends up going to Calgary.  


So there you have it. The five teams that look like they could all land Ilya Kovalchuk. If you feel I missed your team or have another reason why your team might get Kovalchuk, voice your opinions down below.