All eyes are on Ilya Kovalchuk.
The Atlanta Thrashers are still trying to sign the high-scoring winger to a long-term deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next July, but many NHL GMs are waiting to see if Kovalchuk is going to be available at the March 3 trade deadline.
Kovalchuk is earning $7.5 million (all terms US) this season in the final year of his contract. League sources say Thrashers GM Don Waddell is prepared to offer a long-term deal in the $100-million range to try to keep the 26-year-old Kovalchuk in an Atlanta uniform for the rest of his career.
There is talk ó which has been denied ó that Kovalchuk wants a 10-year contract in the range of $11 million a season. Thatís more than Alex Ovechkin earns ($9.29 million a season), and as the NHLís top player, Ovechkin sets the salary bar.
If Waddell and Kovalchuk canít come to terms soon, the Thrashers GM will have to consider shopping Kovalchuk at the deadline. Sources say the Kings, Bruins, Capitals, Rangers, Avs and Devils will be among the teams most aggressively pursuing a top-shelf offensive player.
The belief is Kovalchuk wants to stay in Atlanta because he doesnít face much pressure playing for the Thrashers. The two sides met again Saturday and have more meetings planned.
ďYouíre going to see a lot of teams trying to get in there,Ē said a league executive. ďA lot of people are just waiting to see where this goes. The Thrashers canít afford to just let their best player walk away next season. If Kovalchuk plays hardball, it gets interesting.Ē
Off the glass
Eyebrows were raised when Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet decided to make LW Alex Tanguay a healthy scratch last week. Tanguay is close friends with Bolts captain Vinny Lecavalier and Tocchetís move isnít going to sit well with either player. There has been a lot of speculation about Lecavalierís future with the Lightning. Donít be surprised if that situation comes to a head before the trade deadline ... The Sabres would like to see a more consistent effort from LW Thomas Vanek. The talented sniper has 21 points, including 10 goals, in 31 games this season, but just three points in his last eight games. He missed Saturday nightís game with an upper-body injury ... The Flyers are believed to be trying to trade C Jeff Carter. Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren nixed a deal for Montreal G Jaroslav Halak, and wants to see if he can get more for Carter.
Around the boards
When is somebody going to challenge the leadership of Rangers GM Glen Sather? The club hasnít had a great record since he took over and things are going downhill fast this season. Hereís a rumour: Sather and coach John Tortorella out. Mark Messier and coach Wayne Gretzky in ... Confirm or deny: St. Louis coach Andy Murray pushed one of his daily scouting reports under a playerís hotel door recently and the player pushed it back out. Then, Murray pushed it back in. Canít be true, can it? ... One other thing: Blues president John Davidson denied speaking with the Hurricanes about acquiring C Eric Staal. Davidson has indeed not discussed a trade for the talented forward, and itís doubtful he will. The íCanes arenít likely to trade their franchise player ... This column will take a two-week break during the holiday season and the NHL roster freeze. Sitting duck Teemu Selanne is going to have a decision to make at the NHL trade deadline: Will he stay or will he go? The Anaheim Ducksí chances of making the playoffs are slim, which means GM Bob Murray is expected to start unloading salaries before the March 3 trade deadline. Heís going to get plenty of calls about the 39-year-old Selanne. The veteran winger, who is out until January with a hand injury, is among the league leaders with 14 goals. While Selanne has a no-movement clause in his contract and has insisted he wants to stay in Anaheim, he could change his mind. ďIím sure if he had the chance to go somewhere for a couple of months to win the Stanley Cup, heíd think about it,Ē said one veteran NHL player. Murray hasnít put Selanne on the block yet. That decision will likely be made after the Vancouver Olympics in February. The Ducks were willing to move RW Joffrey Lupul, but he is expected to be out for 6-8 weeks after having back surgery Thursday and has a restricted contract worth $4.25 million per season. Desperate to change League sources say Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini is trying to shake up his roster, but is finding it difficult because the club has too many big contracts. The Oilers havenít performed up to expectations and Tambellini would like to make upgrades. Sources say he is shopping around C Shawn Horcoff, D Sheldon Souray and D Lubomir Visnovksy, who each have cap hits of more than $5 million a season for at least two more years. ďThese contracts are going to make it tough for them to improve,Ē said a league executive. Waiting game Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is not planning on making any deals in the near future, but is expected to be active once the trade deadline rolls around, with RW Lee Stempniak and C Matt Stajan likely to be among the players on the block.