Want your team to land Kovy? Proposals, Part II
[Editor's note: Scroll down for Part II of Bucci's trade proposals.]
Imagine waking up tomorrow, arriving at work and having your boss tell you that you have just been traded to another corporation.
"Yeah, Bob, we really like what you've done for us here since we got going back in 1994, but you are 48 years old now, and quite frankly, your salary is getting up there from all your raises, and my boss says I need to cut costs. Company X offered us this young 25-year-old kid who makes half what you do, plus a new 50-inch LCD for, well, me. I just couldn't pass that deal up. The office saves some cabbage, and I get to watch the 'Monday Night Raw' and 'Cougar Town' in high-def. I know you've lived your whole life here in El Segundo and you have four kids ages 9 to 17, but you are on your way to the Fargo, N.D., office. Tomorrow. Buy gloves. Perhaps a scarf. Godspeed."
Now, the average worker deals with ultimatum transfers, layoffs, muuuuch lower wages and no preferred parking, so we don't need to weep for Ilya Kovalchuk as he faces the possibility of a trade in the coming weeks. Plus, if he does end up getting traded by the Atlanta Thrashers, it certainly appears it will be of his own doing. I'm sure he has been offered enough money to set himself up for life, as well as his wife, his child, future children, Corey Feldman, James Van Der Beek and a Jonas brother to be named later.
However, unrestricted free agency is a negotiated freedom of choice that players should use. Kovalchuk will be rich like Lady Gaga or the Goo Goo Dolls* no matter when or with whom he signs. This decision is unquestionably based on the pride of a salary figure, but it is also based on geography, alpha-dog status and workplace environment.
(*--Merge the two acts together and you have the Lady Goo Goo Gaga Dolls. Their concert tour would be brought to you by Google. And Baby Gap.)
1. SalaryKovalchuk will turn 27 in April. That gives him about six years of expected high-end production during his next long-term contract. He has never been accused of being a fitness buff, and as he approaches age 35, I would be concerned about whether he could perform to his cap number. He theoretically could change habits when he senses the creeping of age. He does have a Hall of Fame, Brett Hull-like release that should ease his aging process. Therefore, Kovalchuk probably will get about a 10-year contract. A 12-year deal with 10 years at $9 million per and two years at $2 million per would leave a cap number of $7.8 million, almost $2 million less than Alex Ovechkin's $9.5 million cap hit. That still would make Kovalchuk richer than Lady Gaga or Goo Goo Dolls lead singer John Rzeznik. And Kovalchuk would come off as Mother Teresa by taking $2 million per year at ages 37 and 38 because he'd be aiding the cap number and team budget. What a guy!
2. GeographyThis matters less and less to the wealthiest of players. Athletes tend not to live year-round in the community where they play unless their kids are of a certain school age. Even then, once the season is over, players split. There is a culture for the super-rich in just about every NHL city, where big houses, gated communities and private schools are similar. For the NHL middle and lower class, there is still value in embedding oneself in a community for potential postretirement income, but not for players like Kovalchuk. I don't see him autographing place mats at a Waffle House in 2025.
3. Alpha-dog statusThe alpha is the dude with the highest rank in the locker room. This is more important to some players than others and is less prevalent in hockey than other sports. But if Kovalchuk were to sign with the Thrashers, he could pick his uniform number, parking spot, locker location, day-care spot for his kids and so on. Any of us would like that fringe benefit.
4. Workplace environmentFor an NHL player, workplace environment is the arena experience, plus the hockey vibe resonating in that city. Let's face it, Atlanta would be at the bottom of the NHL vibe-o-meter. Empty seats, zero franchise playoff wins and a tradition that consists of Ray Ferraro on a regional cereal box and a Patrik Stefan bobblehead in the top drawer. Hard-core fans exist, but it is a small group. Kovalchuk will have his pick of multiple "hockey cities" to play in if that really matters to him. Maybe it does; maybe it doesn't. Maybe he has a contract number and city in mind. It could be Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles.
In the meantime, Thrashers GM Don Waddell is once again in the position of trading an elite player out of Atlanta. He's done it with Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa, and it now appears it is Kovalchuk's turn. All three are likely Hall of Famers. Perhaps Kovalchuk and his agents are trying to squeeze every last penny out of the Thrashers and will sign in the coming days. (The deal I proposed above is 12 years at $94 million. Maybe Kovalchuk and his people are firm on a minimum-10-year, $100 million contract of some kind. Or maybe they are asking for more from Atlanta with the complete intention of going to free agency.) But the more this situation drags out, the more likely Kovalchuk will be dealt (most likely to a playoff team).
Waddell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday the following about negotiations with Kovalchuk:
"Our first priority still remains to sign him, that's clear. I probably didn't leave the door open enough at the beginning of the year because, obviously, I was hoping that this would be long done by now. We also have to protect the asset. He's an asset to our franchise. [A trade] still looms as an option, but it's not my first choice."
So although some NHL teams are undoubtedly discussing Kovalchuk proposals in their personnel meetings now, Waddell probably has yet to receive trade parameters from other teams. But that day is coming fast. The NHL trade deadline is March 3, but no transactions can be made during the two-week Olympic break, which begins Feb. 14. One would think the deal would happen before then, but Waddell could use all of his remaining time and trade Kovalchuk at the last minute, as he did with Hossa in 2007.
But Waddell may decide that dragging this thing out could hurt the team's chances at making the postseason, as it could become an emotional drain on the players. Plus, depending on the package, a Kovalchuk trade could make Atlanta better and increase its chances of making the playoffs. Remember, this franchise has yet to win a playoff game. It's difficult to persuade people to invest in season tickets until a team wins at least one playoff game.
As I've written in this space before, I think the Thrashers have a good chance to make the playoffs if they have Kovalchuk for the rest of the season or get something good in return for him. If Kovalchuk does not instantly sign a long-term deal with his new team, it could complicate things, lessen his true trade value a tad and make what I'm about to do moot. Still, contemplating trade scenarios is one of the fun things about sports. So, here is Part I of 29 Kovalchuk trade scenarios for 29 NHL teams. On Tuesday, we post Anaheim through Los Angeles; on Wednesday, we'll have Minnesota through Washington (plus the Mother of All Mailbags).
Please keep in mind that these deals are not based on rumors, sources or cattle-prodding Pierre LeBrun or E.J. Hradek. It's just some good ol' hockey fun and not intended to injure any of the parties involved. The one thing I have heard from reliable sources is the Kings and Blackhawks are the teams to beat.
So, let's have some fun and imagine what each NHL team might offer for a special talent like Kovalchuk. For all the players who have no-trade clauses, we will imagine they will waive them for the sake of this week's blogumn. Raw prospects also could be added to any of these deals.Bobby Ryan and re-sign Kovalchuk to stick it to the Kings. The Thrashers would get a solid, veteran goalie for this season and next and three pieces that could help them this postseason.
The Bruins need goal scoring and a jolt to electrify their dormant season. Trading a young goaltender such as Rask is very risky. Wheeler is a good, young player who will never be in Kovalchuk's class but would be a nice fit with Evander Kane and the other young Thrashers. I can't imagine the Bruins trading the Maple Leafs' first-round pick under any circumstances unless it includes re-signing Kovalchuk.
Vanek will turn 26 on Jan. 19. This deal could make sense because Vanek has a $7.1 million cap number for four more seasons after 2009-10. Even if the Sabres didn't re-sign Kovalchuk, which they probably wouldn't, they would get a player who would electrify the city and team and could be a difference-maker for the playoffs. They'd also get depth at defense in Kubina, and they'd have the cap room for the summer to add a free agent or trade for Brian Campbell! Atlanta would get a 26-year-old forward who before this season scored 109 goals in the previous three seasons (Kovalchuk had 137). And although Vanek's cap number is $7.1 million, his actual salary is $6.4 million for four years because the deal was front-loaded. Kassian, the Sabres' first draft pick in June, is off to a slow start.
Phaneuf would be a great fit in Atlanta. The Thrashers need a high-minute guy who is physical to go with Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom. Kubina will come off the books after this season, and his cap number is only $1.5 million lower than Phaneuf's. Even though the Thrashers might not get multiple players in a trade, the $8-9 million in cap space they would get from not having to pay Kovalchuk's salary next year would equal one or two really good players. I would prefer a one-for-one trade involving an elite player to a bunch of stuff that looks good in print or on the Internet. And the Flames need help up front. I don't see how they can come close to competing with the Hawks or a healthy Detroit team come the postseason. Or a team that acquires Kovalchuk.
Proposed trade: They can't afford another large deal.
The Canes already have Eric Staal's $8.25 million cap number. Let's not waste our time. The Hurricanes will pick an elite player in this summer's draft as they begin to get younger.
As we noted above, some believe Chicago is a player in the possible Kovalchuk sweepstakes, but I have a hard time seeing it. I don't understand why the Hawks would shake up their core unless they can persuade the Thrashers to take certain players. If I'm Waddell, I have to get Sharp, Versteeg and Bolland. Why would the Hawks do that now except to keep someone else in the West from getting Kovalchuk? I understand they have cap issues for next season, but you can deal with that later. Versteeg and Bolland are not enough for Kovalchuk, and Atlanta has no need for Brian Campbell's $7.1 million cap hit in a straight-up deal.
Colorado is a team that certainly could fit Kovalchuk under its cap in years to come and certainly would be more interested in taking a shot at Kovalchuk in the summer if that's the direction it wants to go. It probably wouldn't make sense to trade a chip such as O'Reilly unless you really wanted to make the playoffs this season and get some momentum into 2010-11.
Imagine rolling out Rick Nash and Kovalchuk one after the other? This is one of the deals that would never happen in the real world, but man, would it sell some tickets in Columbus for a month. Brassard is a real nifty player who should evolve into a slick No. 2 center on a good team, and Umberger is a reliable scorer who would fit well with the evolving, spunky front line of the Thrashers. Kozlov's contract will expire after this season.
Morrow and Ribeiro would equal Kovalchuk's number for the next three years of their deals. Turco's deal will be up after this season, and Dallas may want a fresh start in net. Dallas might be a place Kovalchuk would consider, but its supporting talent pool is not real strong if he is looking to get rich and win. The Stars need to reinvent their team. They need a talent upgrade from top to bottom, especially on defense. Meanwhile, Morrow is the kind of player who can help bring Atlanta to the next level. I'm not a big Ribeiro fan, but he could be a decent No. 2 pivot and reliable playmaking center.
The Wings will not trade Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk. Brad Stuart or Kronwall would be a nice plug at defense with their $3 million-ish cap number, but the Wings don't have the young and ready scoring you think Atlanta would want to help this season and beyond. Remember, a big part of a Thrashers trade should be players who can help this season's team and future Thrashers units make the playoffs.
Souray would be a nice fit for Atlanta's young defense, Hemsky would give the Thrashers skill and the first-round pick would be another good, young player. Edmonton's deal, and most of these other offers, would be made only if Kovalchuk signed an extension. Hemsky and Souray would clear enough space to sign Kovalchuk to a super-rich deal. But would Kovalchuk want to live and play in Edmonton in the winter? Maybe for 10 years at $10 million per year.
Beaches and no state tax. Booth and Weiss would give Atlanta two proven scorers, although Booth's injury would be a concern for this season. Weiss is a real nice center who would fit in well with an emerging Kane. Of course, the chances of Waddell trading Kovalchuk to a Southeast Division team are as likely as Lady Gaga merging with the Goo Goo Dolls.
This is the other team we are hearing to be among the favorites to land Kovalchuk, and most of us could figure that out. Why? Because the Kings need a proven scorer and a talent upgrade to compete with the Western Conference elite. The Kings covet a star to put on billboards, plus they have some cap space, some good young prospects and Frolov, who clearly needs a change of scenery. Frolov also is playing for a contract, and the Thrashers could benefit from that drive. Plus, if he plays well and doesn't ask for too much money, the Thrashers could re-sign him.
Frolov is a tough sign because he has had an up-and-down career. Three years at $15 million? Five years for $25 million? I'm sure he will go for as many guaranteed dollars as he can get, but I would be hesitant to give him more than a three- or four-year deal. Bernier is a 21-year-old goalie who is having a really good season in the AHL. Moller is a slick Swedish center who has yet to show he can be consistent at the NHL level, but I can see him evolving into a real solid player. One of Atlanta's problems throughout the years has been a lack of a strong center.
Don't forget! Check back Wednesday for the rest of my Kovy offers (Minnesota through Washington).
I'm back with Part II of my Kovalchuk trade proposals. Let's take a look:
The Wild had Marian Gaborik for glimpses, but other than him, Wild fans have had a lack of star power to watch in their incredible run of arena loyalty. The eighth spot in the Western Conference (maybe seventh) is possible for multiple teams if they give a powerful finish. But the Wild had better get going now. Havlat gives the Thrashers a ready-made scorer, although durability is an issue. Maybe a change of scenery can be a wake-up call for Sheppard.
Scott Gomez ($7.4 million), Mike Cammalleri ($6 million) and Brian Gionta ($5 million) eat up $18.4 million for four more years. That makes signing Kovalchuk close to impossible -- unless the Canadiens sign 11 maître d's at the league minimum to fill out their roster. But it would be awesome to watch Kovalchuk in this hockey environment this spring.
Talk about a market that has never had a superstar. Nashville would receive ample voltage by adding Kovalchuk. Because the above players we would send to Atlanta have low cap numbers, you can add any free agents signed this summer to these players and it ends up being a great return. Kovalchuk would unquestionably sell lots of tickets and bring a major buzz to Nashville.
The four post-lockout Stanley Cup winners (Carolina, Anaheim, Detroit and Pittsburgh) have been above-average scoring teams. If there is one area the Devils can improve on as they get set to play seven-game playoff series against elite teams, it's adding another elite goal scorer. It would be difficult to give up Zajac and fool with the chemistry of the Devils, but Kovalchuk would give them another elite player to go along with Zach Parise.
New York Islanders
Proposed trade: The Islanders have the cap room to give Kovalchuk the monster deal he seeks and thus would not trade any of their high-level prospects for a playoff push.
I'm trying to see how the Rangers could possibly fit Kovalchuk in their salary cap next season. Kubina's $5 million deal ends after this season, so that clears up $5 million there. Rozsival is also a $5 million player, but he has two more years left. To get Kovalchuk this season, the Rangers would have to trade some salary here and maybe in another deal. Grachev turns 20 in February and is playing in the AHL.
Time for Ottawa to get a superstar in his prime. Fisher is a real nice player who is so valuable, but you have to give up something good to get Kovalchuk. Kovalev is signed through next season. Kovalchuk gives Ottawa a huge jolt, and the Thrashers would get two good players to help them make the playoffs next season.
The last thing the Flyers need is another goal scorer who lacks defensive acumen, but my goodness the power play would be sinister.
Kyle Turris is part of the 2007 draft class that is slow developing. Only Patrick Kane is established. Turris, who turns 21 in August, went third after James van Riemsdyk; he is in the AHL and not producing at an elite level. It's hard to imagine his being an elite NHL player at this point.
This would be very intriguing. Staal is an absolutely perfect No. 3 center on an elite team; he is so smart, big and responsible and a perfect fit in that slot. I don't see an offensive game that says "big-time scorer," but he does so many things well. The Penguins do not want to deal him; but they are so weak at wing, you really have to question their ability to return to the Stanley Cup finals. This is a real issue. Obviously, the Penguins would have to get very creative and persuasive to fit Kovalchuk in their long-term plans; but they would have the $7.7 million in cap space from Staal and Kunitz.
San Jose Sharks
Proposed trade: There is no deal here for the Sharks. It looks as if San Jose is what it is for the postseason.
St. Louis Blues
Proposed trade: The Blues are not making the playoffs and thus would not make any kind of a deal for Kovalchuk. They will certainly kick the tires if the Russian is available over the summer and see whether there is a fit. The Blues can afford a big-ticket item such as Kovalchuk.
This is a really interesting made-up trade proposal. Malone and St. Louis ($9.7 million combined next year) could immediately help the Thrashers with their scoring depth. The problem is when Steven Stamkos comes up for a new contract the year after next. He is going to be in that $5-6 million territory. All of this is a problem because of the albatross $7.7 million cap number of Vincent Lecavalier, who is still a very good player but no longer an elite one.
Kessel would be much better off in a market such as Atlanta, where he can come and go with the notoriety of an Atlanta Hawks ball boy. Schenn is a nice fit with the Thrashers' talented, young defensive group. Toronto would push Kovalchuk to unseen heights in his career. He would be the No. 1 athlete in the city. If he craves attention, well, this would be the place.
The Canucks might actually be able to fit Kovalchuk into their plans beyond this season. Hodgson is a big-time prospect who has been out with a back injury all season. Demitra ($4 million) is part of this deal to make the salaries line up. The Canucks probably would have to shed salary to fit Kovalchuk under the cap for this season. Going forward, it would be difficult because Ryan Kesler is up and is likely going to go from being a $1.75 million-a-year player to a $4 million player. If the Canucks give Kovalchuk one of those looooong-term deals to get his cap number in the $3Ms, he can fit here.
This is an interesting trade to ponder. Semin is a tremendously talented player, but I think Kovalchuk has more of a fire inside his belly that might be seen more in big playoff games. He is a freight train who would be inspired by Alex Ovechkin to play a more physical game. Kovalchuk has the potential to deliver more thunderous checks. This season, his hits total is embarrassing, which suggests he is preserving his body to guarantee the biggest contract of his life. That's weak.
Semin is signed at $6 million for next season and will then be an unrestricted free agent. I would not invest a lot of years in him at a huge number. I would do a $5-6 million deal for four or five years if he is a good fit. Putting him with Nik Antropov and a grinding puck retriever would be a good line for Atlanta. But I think it's clear the Capitals will be looking to add a veteran presence on the defensive end.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or crosschecks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bucci's Power 5
They have the high-powered scoring team you need to win Stanley Cups, and they also grind, defend and play a physical game. And man, can they skate.
San Jose is the closest thing to Chicago in terms of goal production and prevention. I like how this team is built for the playoffs.
No one prevents goals like New Jersey, but you have to wonder whether the Devils have enough offensive pop to win multiple seven-game series. That puts a lot of pressure on Martin Brodeur.
I mean, they gave up seven goals to Tampa Bay on Tuesday. But the Caps will be a playoff force because they can score goals and are really good at home. Plus, we know they're likely to add a defensive piece before the trade deadline.
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