Last February as you’ll recall, the Thrashers dealt away their “face of the franchise” to the New Jersey Devils. The yearlong dance between Ilya Kovalchuk and then-general manager Don Waddell had finally come to an end and the organization’s hand was once again forced to trade away a marquee player…much like they had to do two years prior with Marian Hossa.
Kovy had strung the organization along for months, making it appear as though he wanted to stick around Thrasherville for many more years…even told a reporter who shall remain nameless prior to the season that a deal would be worked out. But when push came to shove, Ilya “pushed” the team into having to trade him and “shoved” the door wide open as he departed for greener pastures…or so he thought when he headed to the swamplands of New Jersey.
Kovy had departed Atlanta, even though Waddell had offered him as much as $10 million a season to stay.
While I’m sure the mere thought of such a scenario just made a cold-as-death shudder race through some of your bodies, it not as fare-fetched as you might think. And I’d venture to guess it’s a question Kovalchuk has asked himself once or twice lately, especially given the fiasco that was his contract saga last summer and the Devils 6-13-2 record.
While there is no true way to predict what would have happened in Thrasherville between February and now, here’s my take at what we possibly could have experienced.
First of all, had Kovalchuk put ink to paper and locked himself up for five, possibly even seven, years at $10 mil per season, he and Anssi Salmela would still be property of the Atlanta Thrashers…and Nic Bergfors, Johnny Oduya and Patrice Cormier would not be. That in and of itself is reason enough for me to shudder in the light of hindsight. And by shudder I mean…shudder like someone who just found out that the transmission fell out of a car they had just sold last month.
whew…dodged that bullet.
Continuing… with a signed Kovalchuk still on the roster, I really wonder if the Thrashers would then have pulled off the trade with Chicago that brought in the likes of Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Sopel. Remember, part of that deal was the second round pick that was swapped with the Devils in the Kovalchuk deal. Plus, given that they had already committed so much money to the Thrashers’ captain, I don’t know if the Octocluster would have permitted Rick Dudley to bring in such players of that caliber knowing what they would wind up costing the team to re-sign.
If I’m right and that trade had not then gone down… there would be no Buff, no Sopes and no Eager. Instead, remaining in Atlanta would have been Marty Reasoner while Joey Crabb and Jeremy Moran would remain in the Thrashers system.
Much as I liked Reasoner when he was with us and believe Moran is going to be very good…the thought of this team without those three players, especially Byfuglien, makes me shudder too. Shudder like the man who was abandoned at the altar by his fiancé, only to learn years later she wound up serving up antifreeze cocktails to her future husband.
whew…dodged that bullet.
Now, one question I don’t think can be answered with any certainty is whether or not the Thrashers would have still dealt for Andrew Ladd. But for the sake of this little exercise, I’m gonna go out on the proverbial limb and guess ‘no’ on that one too.
While it had little if anything to do with the trade last winter with New Jersey, I think the logic still applies here that the Thrashers ownership would have thumbs-downed any kinda of deal that would bring in a player of Ladd’s caliber. After all, we had just re-signed the franchise centerpiece… and for some serious coin mind you. So what would be the need to bring in a pending RFA that would add somewhere in the neighborhood of another two and a half mil to the payroll?
Nope…I’d reckon they’d just have left Vishnevskiy in Chicago, kept the second round draft pick next summer and banked the $2.4 million.
If all of that would’ve gone down the way I described, it would have left us with a starting day roster that would look something like this:
Forwards: Kovy, Antropov, Little, Kane, Peverley, Modin, Burmistrov, Stewart, Boulton, Reasoner, Thorburn, Slater and Pettersson, (who I’m guessing might have made the team absent Ladd and/or Eager), .
Defense: Hainsey, Enstrom, Bogosian, Valabik, (need him now without Sopel and Byfuglien), Meyer, Salmela and Zubarev…maybe Kulda.
In goal would still be Pavelec and Mason.
The price tag that would be attached to the proposed roster listed above, assuming a $10 mil cap hit for Kovalchuk…right at $46 million. That would be just over $5 million more than it is now according to capgeek.com.
Of course, this is all based on quite a deal of speculation…and there are a lot of “what ifs” involved. But this is just one fan’s stab at a possible outcome.
Maybe one could argue that with Kovalchuk around the Thrashers would have made a stronger effort to keep Maxim Afinogenov here. But Max’s presence on the roster would add a couple million more to the overall cap hit. The same could be said if they did indeed still make the trade for Ladd or one of the other three former Blackhawks players now contributing so much for this Thrashers team.
And who out there would suggest that the Great Octocluster would have allowed the bottom line to swell to anywhere around $48 to $50 million this season?
…looking around the blogosphere…
Lastly, here’s one other thing to consider. Right now Atlanta has a record of 9-9-3. And while those 21 points in the standings are 4 less then where the stood after 21 games last year, there seems to be a general sense of optimism in and around Thrasherville these days. Fans are starting to see this team gel lately and, let’s face it, the offense really doesn’t seemed to be missing Kovalchuk’s scoring. Where there was once one superstar looked upon to pot 50 per season, there is now a half dozen or so that are providing balanced scoring.
But had Kovy called Don’s bluff last January, accepting his $10 million offer to stay…and the Thrashers found themselves merely at or near break-even as we approach Thanksgiving…I don’t know if the same optimistic tingle would be running up the legs of Thrashers fans.
Instead, many would see it as more of the same old, tired, worn out strategy that failed to win us a single playoff game in 10+ years. Build a team around one player…fail to keep other key players to build around…fail to address the needs on the blueline…then simply hope he and a host of mediocre performers can somehow score enough to get by.
And many, myself included, would be lamenting the $10 million anchor tied around the organizations neck.
whew…dodged that bullet.