February 4, 2010 :: 10:35am ET
Kovalchuk and the KHL
By David Pagnotta, TheFourthPeriod.com

[TORONTO, ON] -- Ok, so the title may have caught you off guard, but don't read too much into it... this is a two-part column.

First, allow me to touch on the Ilya Kovalchuk situation.

Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell used the power of the media to relay his message: He's going to trade Kovalchuk.

Big surprise. I know.

The two sides simply cannot agree on a contract extension. Kovalchuk wants long-term security, and you can't blame him. If the rest of the league is dishing out 10+ year contracts, why shouldn't he be entitled to the same?

I wrote last month that Kovalchuk's asking price is justified because of his contract status. I stand by that. For the first time in NHL history, a player of Kovalchuk's talent level and age will be hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

Given the league's track record, are we to believe a team won't be desperate enough to offer this guy a monster contract in the $10 million to $11 million rage? I don't think so. It's going to happen.

In fact, the Thrashers have already offered Kovalchuk numerous contracts that would make him the highest paid player in the NHL (more than Alex Ovechkin). The problem? Atlanta's only willing to dish out five- or seven-year deals, and Kovalchuk wants 10 or more.

So, as I get back into the North American swing of things, Kovalchuk will be traded. Good timing on my part, since my cell phone bill is going to be through the roof ($4/minute from Russia? That's crazy!).

The Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames have already balked at the asking price, with the last two clubs pulling out of the race.

The Los Angeles Kings would love to get their hands on Kovalchuk, but they may be more inclined to wait until the off-season and offer up a long-term mega contract.

Philadelphia, Chicago, New Jersey, Vancouver and the New York Islanders are also interested in this 26-year-old sniper, and trade negotiations are ongoing.

But one team that's not part of the loop, at least publicly, could have the best chances of acquiring Kovalchuk.

I've merely heard whispers, and I've combined them with my own opinion, but I wouldn't be at all shocked to see the Detroit Red Wings step up and make a move for Kovalchuk, who would be brought in simply as a rental player.

Thanks to long-term injuries to Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Andreas Lilja, the Wings are bordering $3 million in available cap space. Depending on which players they deal in exchange for Kovalchuk, the Wings will have enough room to fit him under the salary cap for this season.

It's safe to say the Thrashers will have interest in the likes of Valtteri Filppula, Ville Leino, Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson, to name a few.

I can't see Detroit moving Ericsson, but the other three could be fair game.

Filppula's $3 million cap hit could give the Wings the necessary space to make a deal work. That is, however, if GM Ken Holland has any interest in parting with his 25-year-old rising star.

I'm not saying it's a sure thing, but I would never count of one of the brightest GMs in the business (Holland) from swinging a deal for one of the league's best snipers.

With Franzen and Kronwall nearing their returns to the lineup, the addition of Kovalchuk will undoubtedly push them well into playoff contention and possibly a favorite to return to the Stanley Cup Final for a third-straight season.

KHL impressive North American contingent

TFP was one of a handful of media outlets from North America invited to attend and cover the KHL and its All-Star Game in Minsk.

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty skeptical about the league after all the question-marks I heard surrounding it. I, along with my three colleagues from Canada/US, traveled across the KHL for three regular-season games and later met up our Scandinavian friend in Minsk for the All-Star festivities.

Following a week on the other side of the globe, I must say I was pleasantly surprised and impressed; not only by the quality of hockey they play, but of the honesty the players.

It's a different brand of hockey: It's not as physical (despite that mega brawl the entire world saw); it's a quicker side-to-side pace, rather than a back-and-forth rush play; the refs, for the most part, call everything by the book; and the fan atmosphere is near-identical to a soccer crowd.

After speaking with a number of former NHLers, like Sergei Fedorov, Robert Esche, Alexei Yashin and Jiri Hudler, I had a better understanding of how the players have adjusted to the level of play. While they all agree the NHL is the best league in the world, the KHL provides players with an excellent second option.

"It took a while (to adjust)," said veteran defenseman Sergei Zubov. "I feel pretty comfortable right now. The size of the rink was the biggest (change) and the tactics are a little bit different. It took a little while, but it's ok now.

"It's a very competitive league with a very high-level of hockey. Coming over here, I didn't really expect it to be so high. So far, I've had a very good time here. It's really enjoyable to play here."

I'll have much more on the KHL in the coming days. You can also check out over interviews in the TFP Video Player.


David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine and covers the NHL for TheFourthPeriod.com. He is also a contributing writer for NBCSports.com and MSNBC.

  Archives:
  Jan. 11, 2010 Kovalchuk: Worth every penny
  Dec. 30, 2009 Tampa's success rides on Lecavalier's shoulders
  Dec. 23, 2009 It's not only about the money for Kovalchuk
  Dec. 17, 2009 Kovalchuk dominates, contract talks continue
  Nov. 24, 2009 Pouliot finally arrives in Montreal
  Oct. 16, 2009 For Bozak and Leafs, the future should be now
  Oct. 01, 2009 Kovalchuk remains in wait-and-see mode


 

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