Kovalchuk to Chicago? Don’t bet on it. Or against it.

January 11th, 2010 by Harken Leave a reply »

Burgundy here. I’d like to introduce Stayclassy’s newest writer, Harken! Please give Harken a warm welcome and enjoy his first article – it’s a good one! What would you do with the Kovalchuk issue?

First, let me apologize to Atlanta Thrasher fans. Discussing this possible trade is sort of like viewing the body of a deceased family member of theirs— before they’re quite dead.

And, that said, there is a good chance the Thrashers will re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk.

I am not particularly close to the situation in Atlanta. But what I hear tells me the workings of a new contract might be troublesome. And the trade deadline is less than 60 days from now.

That aside, if the Thrashers should decide to trade Kovalchuk before then, it doesn’t have to be to the detriment of the franchise.

In fact, there are a number of scenarios by which the Thrashers could solve a number of problems through such a deal.

One of those scenarios, perhaps the most obvious, is dealing Kovalchuk to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Let’s pause for a moment, waiting for the echoes of laughter (or outrage) to die down. And now let’s address the “conventional wisdom” point-by-point.

“Chicago can’t afford that.”

Yes, they can, as a rental, in return for some of the salaried players they will have to lose before next season.

“Why would Chicago need him? They’re stacked.”

The Blackhawks’ window for winning the Stanley Cup will perhaps never be better than it is this year— next year’s team will, by necessity, be missing 3-4 key players off the current roster. But there is also no guarantee they will win it this year. To that end, they could benefit, like all teams could, from what Kovalchuk brings at even strength. And the Hawks, in particular, could benefit from adding a right-handed point shot on the power play— of which there are few better than Kovalchuk.

“Why would Atlanta deal with them?”

The Blackhawks need to lose exactly what Atlanta needs to gain in such a deal. The Blackhawks have 5 players, each making $3-4 million per season, who are good, young players with recognizable, marketable names that Don Waddell could plug in to his lineup tomorrow and help build his entire team right away: Cam Barker, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland and/or Dustin Byfuglien. Plus, the Blackhawks have two good, NHL-experienced prospects at Rockford in the AHL who could help a team like the Thrashers, goalie Corey Crawford and RW Jack Skille (a former top ten pick). On top of all that, Atlanta Assistant GM Rick Dudley was instrumental in acquiring or developing all these players in Chicago.

“The dollars can’t work. And Chicago needs more than a rental for all those players.”

Untrue, and true. The dollars can work (a lot of different ways) and the Blackhawks can (and will) get more than a rental for all the players they need to deal.

Of the four players mentioned, any two could be dealt for Kovalchuk in an even salary swap. Or, two of those players and one of the high-end prospects just mentioned could be dealt for Kovalchuk with Atlanta absorbing the overage on their cap, or in the minors.

If, say, the package sent to Atlanta included Patrick Sharp and Barker, the Blackhawks might also be able to ask the Thrashers to include a draft pick or two. Further, the Blackhawks would still need to deal 2-3 more players after concluding a Kovalchuk deal, but before the beginning of play next season. And those deals could net futures, like draft picks or prospects.

“Kovalchuk doesn’t fit their defense-first system. He’s not a ‘Bowman’ player.”

Nonsense. Did Patrick Kane fit Chicago’ system last year when his name and ‘backchecking’ could not be included in the same sentence? Does Kris Versteeg, the walking antithesis of smart puck decisions fit Chicago’s system? Plus, Kovalchuk has represented Russia many times in international tournaments. He can adjust to Chicago’s system, about as quickly as Joel Quenneville can say: “Kovy, if you want max ice time, you gotta be on your guy up and down the ice.”

“Chicago can wait ‘til after the season. Why mess with a good thing?”

That depends on how you look at it. It can also be argued that waiting until the offseason to pare roughly $15 million in gross salary, sign free agents and fill out a roster that is sure to have holes, is not just foolish, it’s insanity; it’s too much work to do in a very short period of time.

To wit, the Blackhawks’ playoffs will likely conclude sometime in late May or June, depending on how far they advance. Free agency starts July 1, with the contracts of Nik Hjalmarsson, Andrew Ladd and Antti Niemi to address. Thus, the Blackhawks could benefit tremendously from significantly less payroll, and more clarity on their situation, before that point.

Finally, as mentioned before, the Blackhawks are close, but they are not guaranteed to win the Cup for the first time in 48 years. Acquiring a world-class rental like Kovalchuk in exchange for good players— but good players who are really part of their depth and not the core of Hossa, Toews, Kane, Seabrook, Keith and Campbell— could be the thing that really puts them over the top. Because Kovalchuk also fills at least one gap the Blackhawks have.

There you have it. A perfectly implausible trade scenario, or a perfect storm of factors indicating Ilya Kovalchuk wearing the Indianhead in March.

You tell me.

Harken – who’s real name is John Jaeckel – is well known for his work on HockeyBuzz.com. Follow John on Twitter or become a fan of Stayclassy.net on Facebook.

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10 comments

  1. Sens19 says:

    wow Kovalchuk in Chicago?? That would be a thing of beauty wouldnt it? But the Hawks will have to give up a lot maybe even too much for him and then he would pull a Hossa on them. I don’t know why Kovalchuk would want to stay in Atlanta (and I doubt he does or will) but all I know is that if he’s not coming to Ottawa then I don’t want him anywhere here in the East.

  2. GelatinousMutantCoconut says:

    To Chicago:
    IIya Kovalchuk

    To Atlanta:
    Kris Versteeg
    Dustin Byfuglien
    Jack Skille
    2010 First Round Draft Pick

    Sharp-Toews-Kane
    Kovalchuk-Bolland-Hossa
    Brouwer-Madden-Ladd
    Burish-Fraser-Eager

  3. Burgundy says:

    @GMC – That’s steep. I’d think Versteeg, Skille, and a 1st rounder would be enough. I can’t see Chicago giving up Byfuglien before the playoffs this year (maybe after), given how important he was for them in their run last year.

    Regardless what they or any other team give up, it’s going to be a ton!! Also, I really like Skille and would be happy if he got traded for no other reason then him finally having a chance to crack an NHL roster that wasn’t completely loaded with talent.

    @Sens19 – As far as I know, the only rumoured Eastern team for Kovalchuk is Washington, although I’m not sure if they can really do it. I’m still better on the Kings getting Kovalchuk.

  4. Fantana says:

    If this deal were to happen, I think the players would be Cam Barker, Brent Sopel and/or Kris Versteeg. Maybe Patrick Sharp, but I get the feeling Chicago would like to keep him.

    Having said that, I’m with Burgundy – the Kings have the depth of youngsters to acquire him, as well as the cap space and the green light from ownership. If Kovalchuk gets traded, it’s going to be to L.A.

  5. Sens19 says:

    @Burgundy: I’ve heard rumours that the Bruins may be on the action. I would literally die if they get him and then a top-3 pick in next year’s draft, wow!

  6. Burgundy says:

    Yeah, I’ve seen the Bruins name thrown around there too. Nick Kypreos is a big believer in the Bruins being involved in the Kovalchuk trade talks. Despite the two Leafs picks they have, I can’t see them getting Kovy. I don’t see what else they have (and are willing to give up) that would make Waddell take their offer over the Caps, Kings, Hawks, or anyone else.

  7. GelatinousMutantCoconut says:

    @Burgundy

    That may seem steep, but if you consider all of the pure snipers in the league, you have to consider Kovalchuk second behind only Ovechkin. Gaborik is injury-prone and Options is a lazy one-dimensional selfish a**ehole. I believe only Ovie and Options have scored more goals than I-Chuk.

    I actually believe the price would be steeper, but the Hawks would only be interested in a rental.

    So, why Versteeg and Byfuglien rather than Versteeg and Barker? Simple, Chicago is much deeper up front than it is in the back end. Without Kris and Dustin, the Hawks still have probably the best top-6 in the league:

    Sharp-Toews-Kane
    Kovalchuk-Bolland-Hossa

    and still have a great third line in Brouwer-Madden-Ladd.

    Now, Hendry could step in for Barker, but he doesn’t bring the same offense, and if there should be an injury, there’s less depth to fill the spot.

    Also, Atlanta is pretty set on the blue-line, with Enstrom, Bogosian, Hainsey, Kubina and Salmela. What they really need in a return for Kovie is replacement scoring. Versteeg and Byfuglien fit that bill.

    Now, I’m a big proponent of patience and building from within through the draft. However, the Hawks have to dump two 3-million dollar players anyway. So they can either try and get some 2nd round picks for them and hope to continue the drafting magic, or go for broke and try to win a Cup now. They have to ask themselves, is it worth it?

  8. Harken says:

    Kevin,

    Their drafting magic has been as great as you might think. Alex Zhamnov, Steve Sullivan and years of crappy records turned into a lot of high picks. They made some good picks and some not so good ones.

    But that’s the bottom line. They really can’t ADD salary next year in return for these players (outside of say, Barker for Shannon and PIcard which has been mentioned— ie, 1 for 2 or 1 for 3 trades), it’s a choice between rental(s) and picks/prospects.

    OK, consider how marketing sensitive the John McDonough Blackhawks are, their “One Goal” ad campaign, etc.,

    Consider that has been fed to a fanbase that has been without a Cup for 47 years.

    The pressure is IMMENSE on them to win it THIS year. Because even if all the fans don’t realize it, the Hawks surely do realize, with all the cutting they need to do, they will not be this close for at least a few seasons.

  9. Harken says:

    “has NOT been”

    Coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. BTW, where’s that Focalin XR . . .

  10. Burgundy says:

    Awesome to have you on board, Harken.

    I understand their cap problems, but will they give up all the players named in GMC’s post above? Skille, Byfuglien, Versteeg, and a 1st round pick for a rental player (despite how good Kovalchuk is)? I would think they could give up some of those players for picks/prospects at the draft and prior to the 10/11 season starting.

    I totally agree the Hawks window is now. If they don’t win it this year, it’s going to take a while before they can again. IMO, they are putting more pressure on the situation than they need to with the “One goal” campaign. Yes, the fan base would love a Cup, but there are a few successful franchises that exist that haven’t won in around the same length… ummm… Leafs! (sorry, had to get a shot in there).

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