With the agent for star forward Ilya Kovalchuk not meeting the needs of Atlanta Thrashers management, general manager Don Waddell has started to explore his options.
Waddell is believed to be talking to some of the NHL's other 29 teams for a potential blockbuster trade after talks last week with Kovalchuk's representative, Jay Grossman, failed to yield a new contract.
"They [Thrashers] still want to sign him, and they're still going to work on that, but the left hand and the right hand now have to work together and they're going to look [at] what the market is for him for a possible rental trade," Hockey Night in Canada contributor Pierre LeBrun said during Saturday's Hotstove segment.
LeBrun said the Los Angeles Kings, who have set aside salary cap space and money, would be a serious bidder for Kovalchuk, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
"They brought in [forward] Ryan Smyth [via trade last July], they brought in [free-agent defenceman] Rob Scuderi. Now they want the big star," LeBrun said.
"And it's a team … that is a little lower in the standings [eighth in the Western Conference entering play Saturday] than they were a couple of weeks ago, so there might be a pressure point there. That might come in handy for Don Waddell."
The market for Kovalchuk, according to HNIC's Elliotte Friedman, is a team that feels it could contend for the Stanley Cup this season.
"There's a lot of people that think they can't sign Kovalchuk into next season because he's going to the [Continental Hockey League in his native Russia] or wants to hit a home run on the free-agent market. A lot of teams are going to be scared away from going after him."
Sovetsky Sport in Russia reported recently that Atlanta has balked at a 10-year deal that would pay Kovalchuk an average of $11.5 million US a season, the maximum per-year salary he could receive under the collective bargaining agreement.
Kovalchuk, who was 10th in NHL scoring this season with 47 points in 37 games entering Saturday's action, has maintained he wants to remain in Atlanta.
Part of the problem is the state of Thrashers ownership, a group of eight known as the Spirit group that has been embroiled in a quiet dispute for more than four years over how to run the team.
Why sign a long-term contract if you don't know what the future is? Friedman wondered, adding, "They [owners] don't even know what the future is. What if the team moves?"
Attracting and/or keeping great players has never been a strength of the Thrashers (see Dany Heatley, Marian Hossa), but Kovalchuk has embraced the captaincy and helped Waddell in recruiting several players who have helped Atlanta to a 19-19-6 record through Saturday.
In other trade talk, Friedman reported that Edmonton Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray would waive his no-trade clause, which extends to July 1, "if the situation was right and the Oilers wanted to deal me."
Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini told Friedman on Saturday he hasn't asked Souray or any of the team's other players with a no-trade clause — defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky and forward Shawn Horcoff — if they would be willing to move.
"We have 18 games until the Olympic break," Tambellini told Friedman. "We are going to use this time to find out who wants to be here and who doesn't. This is our big evaluation stage to determine our long-term future."