ATLANTA -- Ilya Kovalchuk is the Atlanta Thrashers' franchise player but he could be the No. 1 prize for other teams at the trade deadline if he can't hammer out a new deal with the team. Kovalchuk told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a story for today's editions that he's not frustrated with the pace of talks -- yet. Still, it seems more and more unlikely that Thrashers can meet his price and other teams have to be looking at the Russian Olympian as a rental for the playoff run and perhaps as a guy they could try to sign longterm.
That said, you wonder how it's impacting the Thrashers. Until Tuesday's 6-1 win over reeling Ottawa, Atlanta had not won in regulation since Nov. 30 -- a span of 21 games! Kovalchuk was scoreless for three straight games before collecting three points Tuesday. GM Don Waddell insists he's not actively seeking a trade but the Thrashers can't afford to let Kovalchuk walk for nothing as a UFA after the season either.
For that reason, a Kovalchuk deal might become a necessity. Just like it was for the Sabres two years ago in dealing Brian Campbell to San Jose. Buffalo couldn't afford to get nothing for Campbell and made its deal for Steve Bernier, which eventually turned into Craig Rivet. The Campbell saga became quite a distraction in the Buffalo locker room. This one could turn out the same.
"Quite honestly, it hasn't been a distraction,"Atlanta coach John Anderson told me today. "Ilya has still been scoring. He had a couple games where he didn't but really that was bizarre to us. It has not been an issue. Both parties have been very good in negotiating in the boardroom and not in the paper. They've done a wonderful job of it and hopefully it can get done soon."
Don't hold your breath. By the way, I'm with Bucky, who spent a lot of time on this topic in today's chat: Don't start the Kovalchuk-to-Buffalo talk. Yes, he's a wondrous offensive talent but he plays no defense and the first time he took a shift that went into the 90-second range, Lindy Ruff would blow a gasket. Kovy wouldn't fit this system at all. No way.
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