The Kovalchuk Sweepstakes Intensify

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Beyond the recent controversies of players calling our referees, leagues calling out TV broadcasters, and late night talk show screw ups, another matter is slowly creeping up on hockey fans, and that's the pending free agency of Russian Superstar Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk's free agency represents a truly unique situation for both the Atlanta Thrashers and the NHL, as he'll arguably be one of the first true superstars to reach free agency at the ripe age of 27. To my knowledge, that's never happened before. Players like Kovalchuk either stay in the same city their entire careers, or they get traded. Generally, no one fathoms that such a star could reach the market.

What makes this situation even more interesting is that Kovalchuk is the face of a franchise in trouble. The ownership situation in Atlanta has been in flux for years, and there aren't as many fans as there for the other sports in the city. Being a city that doesn't have a proper winter, and with teams such as the Braves, Falcons, as well as the Hawks, there is little time or interest for hockey. The saving grace for the Thrashers is the fact that they have a name that's recognizable to most if not all casual fans. People in Atlanta may not know much about the Thrashers, but they know about Kovalchuk.

So despite troubles with the team's management, with selling the game to people around the city, as well as with the team on the ice, there is no doubt that the Thrashers want to keep Kovalchuk. There have been reports that the feeling is certainly reciprocal. Nevertheless, as stated, Kovalchuk has the chance to do something that not many people have done. He'll get as much money as he desires, as many years as he desires, on any team that he wants. All he has to do is pick up the phone on July 1st.

But until then, the Thrashers face a difficult decision: Keep Kovalchuk through to July 1st, keep trying to sign him and more the most of the current season? Or trade him for as much as he's worth and try and reap the benefits over a longer period of time?

It's certain that GMs all around the league are salivating at the possibility of acquiring Kovalchuk, even as a rental. He's definitely a player who could make a difference in the playoffs. Others may want to have a head start at negotiating with him before he hits free agency. Needless to say, he's going to make Deadline-Day (March 4th) very interesting.

Spector posted an interesting round up of the latest Kovalchuk rumors. Here is the absolute latest:

- Michael Traikos of the National Post is reporting the Bruins and Kings as the best potential suitors for Kovalchuk. Both are going to be playoff teams, both have solid futures, and he'd fit in on either line-up right now (regardless of cap implications). Both also need that elite goalscorer. The Blackhawks were also mentioned (which is laughable despite being on their way to a cup run, due to cap implications), as well as the Red Wings and Canucks (who need defense more than they do offense).

- Elliot Friedman of HNIC agrees that the Bruins should be the first team Don Waddell calls. Toronto's first round pick, which will most likely end up being a lottery pick (lol), could be in play.

- Damien Cox says that Kovalchuk could be on Brian Burke's radar, but that's Damien Cox. He'll forget about it next time someone gets injured in a fight.

- Helene Elliot of the LA Times agrees that the Kings might be the best suitor for Kovalchuk. Big market that's missing their franchise player. The only problem would be that the Kings wouldn't be interested in him as a rental. Should they rather wait and take their chances on July 1st?

- Mike Brophy at Sportsnet takes an interesting, unique approach to the matter, saying that it wouldn't be disastrous for the Thrashers to lose Kovalchuk. They haven't won anything with them and they aren't drawing attendance because of him, and that trading him might be more avantageous than keeping him until free agency only to lose him for nothing then. Maybe things would be even worse for the Thrashers would Kovalchuk?

- Spector himself argues that the Thrashers are a playoff contender and will be on March 4th, and that he thinks that he won't be traded. They have depth, they have Kovalchuk in his prime, see where you can go with it.

To read more on Kovalchuk from Spector, as well as links to all the above rumors, click here.

I believe it's useless to argue where Kovalchuk wants to sign. There are many teams that could contend for a cup with Kovalchuk over the course of a long term contract, and the money and term will be there, wherever he goes. Only he knows what he wants to do, and even at that, he might not.

But what kind of a trade deadline would it be without speculation? And with Kovalchuk on the market, this may be the biggest trade deadline acquisition ever, if a team does in fact get lucky.

Where do you think Kovalchuk will end up? Which team may he be best suited for?

Only time will answer these questions for us for certain.

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
www.twitter.com/thecheckingline

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