I would first like state that I am addressing this rumor because it is, in fact, circulating around the league that Toronto is interested in the Atlanta Thrashers’ sniper Ilya Kovalchuk. Yes, this rumor did come to light due to an Eklund blog, but no, it is not fake. In fact, every team in the league would love to get their hands on Kovalchuk. So there you have it, the rumor is true, but it was an easy one to pinpoint by Eklund because every single team in the league understands that Kovalchuk is available, and every single team in the league would love to have him on their powerplay. It’s as simple as that. Now to the non-obvious part.
As much as Brian Burke would love to add Kovalchuk to the Leafs roster, the asking price would have basically been what Kessel was acquired for. Now that the Leafs do not have those picks, Atlanta would surely demand Kessel and maybe even Kadri in a deal to acquire the Russian phenom.
But that isn’t the goal.
Atlanta wants him signed up immediately long-term. If a deal cannot be reached, due to Kovalchuk having little to no interest in remaining a Thrasher for years to come, Atlanta would be forced to deal him off as a rental. Unfortunately for Kovalchuk, that’s not what he wants either. He feels he can bring the Thrashers to the playoffs this season and is fond of his teammates, but not fond of the city.
That’s where the whole “Kovalchuk to Toronto” factors in, when really it could factor into any large market city. Kovalchuk wants the money and the show. He is the face of the Thrashers franchise, but there’s not too many fans in Atlanta pouring in to witness his talent. Kovalchuk wants stardom and knows he can achieve it in a high hockey market city like Toronto, or even any of the New York based teams, and even Los Angeles where he would be treated like a rock star. Anze Kopitar already knows what the rock star treatment can be like.
Toronto does not have (and simply cannot provide) the package Atlanta would demand for Kovalchuk as a rental. It’s likely any team he is traded to is the team he will sign with, so the Thrashers will demand top dollar for him. Knowing how much better of a player he is in comparison to Marion Hossa, you could imagine just how much of a return Ilya would collect for Atlanta. It’s a package not worth shedding from the Leafs organization.
Many would suggest trading Kessel for a proven elite goal scorer like Kovalchuk is a no brainer, but Brian Burke is far more intelligent than to give up the farm for one player (despite the obvious one-sided deal it took to land Kessel in the first place). That is why free agency day will be exciting for Leaf fans.
Should Kovalchuk be dealt to a team he has no interest in signing with, or even remain a Thrasher to attempt the playoff push, free agency day would see the Leafs at nearly 75% the obvious choice for his placement for years to come. With certain contracts expiring and a willingness to shake up the core of the franchise, making room for Ilya would be simple, and Eklund is right, the endorsements he would receive in Toronto are immensely beneficial when attracting stars to the market.
But unless he finds his way to free agency, the Leafs would be taking a step back in offering up the likes of Kessel, Kadri, even Bozak, D’Amigo, Blacker, Stalberg and other potential high profile prospects within the organization. Brian Burke came to the team seeking out a way to build their farm, and this trade would erase all that he has done.
The only side note to consider on the Leafs behalf is knowing that Burke could have just offered the Bruins a 1st, 2nd and 3rd in a tendered offer sheet for Kessel. Instead, he threw out the 3rd and attached a second first in the deal because he wanted to get the deal done sooner and also knew the Bruins would have matched the offer. Should Burke feel Kovalchuk is his next big blockbuster acquisition and wants him sooner than free agency day, the offerings of a ridiculous package could very well be on the horizon.
It’s all a matter of the true “direction” and “plan” of the organization, though many would argue that throwing away two firsts, a second and all their high profile prospects is a little less than a plan and a little more than insanity.
It should also be noted that there are rumblings that Burke is interested in landing Colby Armstrong sometime this season as well (who is slated to become a free agent this summer). Burke tried hard to land Armstrong in a deal last season when the Leafs dealt Kubina to Atlanta, but after each team pulled away more pieces of the deal to what it became, Armstrong too fell off that list.
Micheal A. Aldred