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A Look Ahead: Ilya Kovalchuk

Ilya KovalchukThe biggest name heading into the 2010 free agency period is Atlanta Thrashers RW Ilya Kovalchuk. He will definitely get top dollar if he hits the open market, but how much he will get is already starting to generate buzz. ESPN cites sources (RDS.ca) that he is on the verge of signing a deal forth $11.3 million average over 9 years, which nets him over $100 million. Let’s let that sink in for a while before I pick this apart (aside from the fact that the article states that Boston, with all those draft picks, can be a possible target. Um, no. Zero cap space).

First and foremost, $11.3 million is exactly 20% of the current NHL salary cap ceiling. The current CBA states that no player shall make more than 20% of the salary cap ceiling. Considering that the salary cap will most likely decrease next year (cap numbers are tied to revenue, no one spends money in a recession), $11.3 million will almost definitely be against the current CBA.

Second, Kovalchuk is just awful in his own end. He is a combined -85 in his seven years in Atlanta, with his best year being 2006-2007, when he finished as a -2. He has never finished a year in on the positive end of this stat, and is a consistent liability in his own zone.

Third, Kovalchuk has never once broken 100 points in a season. Ever. He has five straight seasons of 40+ goals, and two 50+ goal seasons, but never has he once broken 100 points. Alex Ovechkin is, well Alex Ovechkin, and he makes $9 million a year, going up to $10 million a year in 2014. Is Kovalchuk worth $2 million more than Ovechkin. I think not.

As important to the survival of hockey in Atlanta as Kovalchuk is, he probably will net the most in return at the trade deadline. Atlanta is a team with a lot of holes, and rebuilding with everything GM Don Waddell can get for Kovalchuk is a very good start. If they can net a good young prospect, someone who is hyped up and they can market, then there is no loss in terms of marketing, as long as it’s presented properly. I am one of the many who believe that in order for Atlanta to become a good franchise, they need to trade Kovalchuk. I thought so last year, and not trading him this year would be asinine.

Atlanta already has some nice chips in place with Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, and Bryan Little. That said, they need more than Kovalchuk in order to compete. Kane has the potential to match Kovalchuk’s production in the future, and if you pair him with Little, that’s a good first line. Bogosian and Enstrom are capable of anchoring a blue line.

Trading Kovalchuk though, is a whole other situation. A trading partner will have to be a contender, with cap room (or expendable pieces to create the necessary cap room) to fit Kovalchuk’s pro-rated $6.4 million cap hit (if you assume there are 20 games in the season after the trade deadline, that amounts to roughly $1.56 million), with a good enough farm system to deal non-roster players, and with enough off-season cap space to make a legitimate run to sign him long-term. It’s a tough task, but it’s doable.

If I had to make a guess, if the Blues are competing for a Division crown (with Detroit and Chicago’s suspect goaltending, it’s possible), or are fairly locked into a playoff spot, come the trade deadline, I would guess that St. Louis would make a run at him. They will definitely have the cap space (currently $5 million under the cap, they can practically fit him without dumping salary). They definitely have the prospects, #1 on HockeysFuture Organization Rankings. They can definitely compete. And with Paul Kariya’s $6 million coming off the books, they can definitely make a run to sign him long term.

I think a deal centered around Lars Eller/Aaron Palushaj, Jake Allen, Carlo Colaiacovo (cap space), Patrick Berglund/BJ Crombeen/David Perron, and a first round pick in exchange for Kovalchuk and Colby Armstrong could get it done. It’s a nice balance of two prospects, a roster player, a high pick, and cap space in exchange for Kovalchuk and a role player.

You heard it here first, if the Blues are competing, Kovalchuk goes to St. Louis.

Image Credit: Dave Sandford/Getty Images

One Response to “A Look Ahead: Ilya Kovalchuk”

  1. Dave says:

    Jeremy, can you throw up a game thread? I’m in CT.