With just under a month until the official NHL Trade Deadline, all of the speculations involving one of the biggest players on the market, Ilya Kovalchuk, came to its dramatic conclusions.
On Thursday night, the New Jersey Devils and the Atlanta agreed to terms sending rookie-of-the-year candidate Niclas Bergfors, veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya, and erratic forward prospect Patrice Cormier along with New Jersey’s first and second round picks in 2010 over to Atlanta for the highly touted, impending UFA wing Ilya Kovalchuk along with Atlanta’s second round pick in 2010 and Anssi Salmela, a young defenseman who was actually New Jersey’s property earlier in the season.
Right before the trade was made official though, many sources speculated that Kovalchuk could be headed to New Jersey’s divisional rival, the Philadelphia Flyers.
As NHL fans began speculating that last year’s Rocket Richard runner-up Jeff Carter, slumping future top pairing defenseman Braydon Coburn, the leader in even strength points among rookies James vanRiemsdyk, and a high-end defensive prospect such as Marc-Andre Bourdon could be on the move to Atlanta for 20 or so games of Ilya Kovalchuk, some were much more realistic in their expectations.
The truth is that it was likely veteran winger Scott Hartnell and one of the Flyers’ young defensemen being discussed along with a decent prospect. Any one of Carter, vanRiemsdyk, and second year sensation Claude Giroux were completely off the table from the start.
In the end, that may have been the Flyers’ undoing in the Kovalchuk race, but the organization would have been foolish to trade a valuable piece of their future team for a good player that they were just going to let walk at the end of the season anyway. In all honesty, Kovalchuk really isn’t worth that much, as it was so bluntly put. Even if high-priced hybrid forward Danny Briere was the one being moved, which was mentioned in quite a few rumors, the organization likely never had any intention of locking Kovalchuk up long-term.
The other truth to the mess that is the Ilya Kovalchuk trade was the Olympic Break. Thrashers’ GM Don Waddell, with his franchise’s future held in the balance, had to ship Kovalchuk out before the Olympics. While a price for Kovalchuk’s services might be a little higher after the threat of injury during the Olympic Break had passed, if some sort of accident happened to Atlanta’s prized possession without him being moved before-hand, Waddell risked walking away from Kovalchuk with nothing.
A deal had to get done. The Flyers were offering more established veterans, and the Devils were offering a little more in futures. For Waddell it was an easy decision though maybe not the best for his team. Only time will tell.
For GM Paul Holmgren and his Philadelphia Flyers, the post-Kovalchuk deal reality is only a little more inter-division danger. He will still be working on a deal, though no one is sure just yet what it could be. With the acquisition of defenseman Lukas Krajicek to add depth to the blueline, it is likely that the Flyers are looking for one extra forward.
“Scoring depth, that more than anything is what we will focus on,” Holmgren mentioned to CSNPhilly.com. “We’d like to add something up front.”
While perhaps a little expensive, a deal centering around Lee Stempniak or Alexei Ponikarovsky of the Toronto Maple Leafs could fetch some interest. The Flyers could be even looking at forwards like Matt Cullen or Ray Whitney of the Carolina Panthers.
It is also known that defenseman Sheldon Souray of the Edmonton Oilers has mentioned Philadelphia as one of the possible destinations that would make him drop his no-trade clause. The Flyers could move a nice package to Edmonton if some good forwards were headed back to Philadelphia without captain Mike Richards, Carter, vanRiemsdyk, or Giroux being included.
There are still plenty of options open for the Flyers even if their movements are slightly limited by cap space. Goaltending, however, is not currently on the team’s wish-list.
“That [Turco deal] is not happening,” Holmgren said. “There is no chance of that happening. If we had interest in Marty Turco, we’d certainly look at him over the summer. We can’t take that cap hit [at that spot].”
The Flyers are not interested in uprooting goaltender Ray Emery, who has performed well despite injuries this season. While rumors like the one for Marty Turco and another for Jaroslav Halak of the Montreal Canadiens continue to pop up, the Flyers are set between the pipes. While many feel Emery is just another short-term solution for the Flyers this season, he is still a very talented goaltender, on par with the better goalies in the Eastern Conference, who has already seen the Stanley Cup Finals. Those willing to underestimate his talent or ability might be making a costly mistake.
There is also word that the Flyers are interested in locking Emery up long-term, though reportedly no talks will begin until after the Trade Deadline. The organization feels he can stay an important goaltender in the NHL for years to come and are just waiting on his performance in the postseason. If he is locked up to a bargain contract long-term as a young, athletic, talented, and consistent goaltender, he could make a name for himself in a division known for some of the NHL’s elite goaltenders as well as some of its more overrated ones.