|ESPN.com: NHL||[Print without images]|
The Atlanta Thrashers have stepped up their efforts to move superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk and a trade could happen "by the weekend," a source close to the situation told ESPN.com Wednesday.
It appeared Wednesday night that the Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils were the teams still involved, two sources said. ESPN.com confirmed that Thrashers associate GM Rick Dudley was at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Wednesday night scouting an AHL game between New Jersey's farm team, the Lowell Devils, and the Hartford Wolfpack.
A Boston Bruins source told ESPN.com Wednesday night that they are "not in it"; however, another NHL source told ESPN.com that the Bruins remain in the hunt. The Bruins had inquired about Kovalchuk several times over the course of the season, including a number of times last week.
Vancouver had shown interest but a Canucks source told ESPN.com Wednesday night that they don't consider themselves in it any more.
Of course, any trade of this magnitude is a fluid process where other teams often jump in late. When Atlanta traded Marian Hossa two years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins came out of nowhere at the 11th hour before the trade deadline. The Penguins, however, will not be a factor in these sweepstakes.
The Kings remain the most logical destination, the rising club with space under the salary cap and a burning desire to make a big move before the March 3 trade deadline. But as of Wednesday night, a Kings source told ESPN.com the price was too high at that point for Kovalchuk.
Atlanta is looking for a return package that includes a player with immediate impact, a top prospect and a draft pick, but the pieces could vary.
The Kings are also looking at Carolina Hurricanes winger Ray Whitney. Both Kovalchuk and Whitney are slated for unrestricted free agency July 1.
As for Whitney, he has a no-trade clause, which has complicated matters. When the Kings showed interest in him over the last week, Whitney's agent J.P. Barry informed the Kings they wouldn't agree to the move without a three-year extension and the Kings declined, two sources close to that situation confirmed to ESPN.com. The Kings remain interested in Whitney but won't do more than a one-year extension for him.
The Thrashers made Kovalchuk's camp one last contract offer two weeks ago, said a source -- an eight-year deal worth $80 million, an average of $10 million a year.
On Wednesday, Kovalchuk met with Thrashers GM Don Waddell to discuss the situation. It's believed Waddell simply told the captain that since there hadn't been a response to the team's last contract offer, he would now have to look seriously at trading him very soon.Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.