Staying or Going: Ilya Kovalchuk
When the Atlanta Thrashers named Ilya Kovalchuk team captain a few weeks back, was it a sign? Did that mean the team was prepared to do what they had to do to keep Kovalchuk long-term?
I think we all know better than to believe it when a general manager says a player isn't getting traded. With that in mind, there is a chance Don Waddell is serious when he says he's not trading Kovalchuk.
Then again, there's also a chance he will get an offer he can't refuse.
Contract status: Signed through next season at a salary of $7.5 million. Cap figure is just short of $6.4 million.
Cities where the interest may be mutual: Columbus, N.Y. Rangers, Montreal. The Rangers and Canadiens lack any real cap flexibility, while Columbus has enough cap room to take on Kovalchuk's salary for the rest of this season without giving up any NHL-level talent. The Rangers need to face the possibility that a coaching change isn't enough to turn everything around, and it may take a blockbuster deal to make it happen. Then again, if the Rangers call, what the hell are they going to offer? A rapidly aging and seriously overpaid Chris Drury? Montreal, meanwhile, has seemingly around 40 players who are free agents after this season. Not exactly the kinds of pieces a rebuilding franchise (Wait, can you call the Thrashers "rebuilding" when they haven't built anything in the first place?) would want in return for their only star.
Where he'll end up: Kovalchuk is a recently-minted captain. Surely, new captains have been traded before. However, if the organization was dead-set on dealing him, why would they go through the trouble of not only naming Kovalchuk captain, but making kind of a big deal out of it?
The reality is that Atlanta doesn't have to do anything this year. Kovalchuk has one more year on his deal after this one. If the intent is to trade him off for younger parts so the Thrashers can try again to make a decent hockey team, they can afford to wait. Unless someone blows the doors off before Wednesday's deadline, I think Waddell will be content to hold on to Kovalchuk ... for now.