Talk or walk?

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell recently commented on the ongoing contract talks with superstar left winger Ilya Kovalchuk in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Waddell said there was nothing new to report other than they’re still trying to agree on the length of a new contract and once that’s established they’ll move on to the money.

That’s provided fodder for the rumor mill to suggest talks have fallen through and has conjured up plenty of trade scenarios, but the reality might not be quite so dramatic.

Some pundits suggested Waddell wanted to get Kovalchuk under contract by the end of November and didn’t want to let talks drag on, but the hitch could still be Kovalchuk’s concerns over the future of the franchise.

It’s believed the Russian superstar wants assurances the Thrashers are building toward being a playoff club and he might prefer waiting until later in the season before committing to a long-term deal.

For now, Waddell’s comments punch holes in the theory Kovalchuk will soon sign a 13-year contract worth nearly $10 million per season, but it doesn’t mean the Thrashers GM intends to move him for picks, young players and prospects.

• Since the NHL implemented its salary cap in 2005, struggling teams have found it difficult – if not impossible – to make significant early-season trades.

The latest examples are the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, whose respective GMs recently noted the cap didn’t allow for any quick changes at this point in the season.

Recent reports suggest Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson could be in the market for a defenseman after Rostislav Klesla was sidelined four-to-six weeks with a groin injury. But despite having depth in wingers to shop as trade bait, finding a suitable fit won’t be easy because of the cap and constraints on swapping significant salaries.

Meanwhile, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford recently admitted he’s been busily working the phones seeking a deal, but noted the difficulty in moving contracts at this time of year.

For all the rumors of ‘big trades’ floating around the Internet, the fact remains the last significant early-season trade occurred on Nov. 30, 2005, when the Boston Bruins shipped center Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks.

With 25 of the NHL’s 30 teams currently committing $50 million or more to their respective payrolls for this season, there simply aren’t enough teams with the cap space to make any significant trades at this point.

If the dollars don’t fit, the trade can’t be done, which explains why early-season trades since 2005-06 have been minor deals – like the Canadiens recently shipping right winger Guillaume Latendresse to the Wild for Benoit Pouliot – where the salaries are almost identical.

So ignore those silly rumors claiming players with expensive contracts are being shopped. The only time deals of that nature occur is usually late June or early July, when teams have the cap space to swing such trades.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website,, and is a contributing writer for and Eishockey Magazine.


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