By JESSE ROGERS
So my colleague, Pierre LeBrun from ESPN.com, stirred the Internet world a few days ago when he wrote that an NHL executive told him it would be a good idea for the Hawks to enter the Ilya Kovalchuk talks if he’s not re-signed by the Atlanta Thrashers.
Let’s be clear, this was just a suggestion. There is no evidence any talks have taken place or will take place. I do think Kovalchuk will be traded, but not necessarily to the Hawks. This process is just beginning, so to call it a fluid situation is an understatement.
The best question to ask right now is: Do the Hawks need him or anyone else to help them win the Cup?
I’m starting to think the answer is no. It’s not something I would have thought at the beginning of the season. Like a lot of experts and fans, I thought there might be a “playoff toughness” missing from this team. That’s different than playoff experience. I’m talking about being a rugged defenseman or nasty power forward short of a perfect roster. Would they be able to compete when scoring came down, checking increased, and the fluid skating game wasn’t working?
To the surprise of many, the answer so far is yes. They have battled Pittsburgh, St. Louis and a few other teams with their grit as much as their speed and have come out on top. Simply put, no style of play has thrown the Hawks off their game for too long.
Joel Quenneville has hinted about this lately. He’s pointed out the toughness his team has displayed and how it may have surprised the hockey world a bit. In fact, it’s possible it surprised him as well.
Of course, just because it’s working now doesn’t mean it will in the Spring. Joel Quenneville, Stan Bowman and the rest of Hawks brass (um, Scotty?) will determine if they need any help.
So the only kind of trade that can take place is one that sheds salary and helps them for this year. Or at the very least a trade of salary has to bring the Hawks back equal value. But even in doing a trade of equal value, the Hawks needs to be very careful in messing with the chemistry in the dressing room. And believe me, they know that.
Having said all that, read this line carefully: Any player on the last year of his deal is eligible to be traded to the Hawks. Any player. That list could include Mike Modano, Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne and yes Kovalchuk. The obvious draw to him is he’s in his prime and, well, he’s awesome.
Kovalchuk is a little different than your classic aging veteran looking for one last chance at glory. He’s looking for a new contract, and what better way to negotiate with 29 other teams than to light it up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There are a lot of reasons to like him.
Here’s the bottom line. Because of the Hawks play this season, they are in no “desperate” position to pick anyone up, so they should be able to dictate more than we thought. Considering everyone is aware of their salary cap problems, getting fair value seemed unlikely. But now, seemingly, the Hawks can walk away from the table if they don’t like the deal.
There isn’t a player available the Hawks have to have, but Kovalchuk is one who would be hard to pass up on. It would give the Hawks three absolute scoring studs – along with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa -- that no team on the planet could deal with.
Whatever happens, it’s an incredible position to be in. To actually be able to say, “We don’t need Ilya Kovalchuk or anyone else to win the Cup,” is something you wouldn’t hear from 29 other teams. I’m starting to believe it myself.