The other team in town is big-game hunting. Islanders' GM Garth Snow has checked in with the Thrashers about the availability of marquee all-star left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, leaving the message with Atlanta GM Don Waddell that the team intends to be in the mix if the impending unrestricted free agent is placed on the trade market, The Post has learned from a well-placed source.
Kovalchuk, who is believed seeking a 12-year contract in the neighborhood of $120 million, has stated his preference to finish his career in Atlanta, but the cash-poor Thrashers' ownership may be unable or unwilling to commit to a deal that, in essence, comes close to equaling the value of the franchise.
If Waddell concludes he will be unable to sign Kovalchuk, the Thrashers would presumably look to move the 26-year-old goal-scoring machine in what likely would be a rental deal, though the Islanders most certainly do have the cap space to accommodate such a long-term contract.
Kovalchuk, who has 26 goals and 24 assists in 39 games this season, has recorded 323 goals and 284 points in 584 career games, all of which have been played with the Thrashers. He is among the league's most high-profile athletes.
The Islanders, who sent a No. 1 and two prospects to Edmonton to pull off a rental deal for Ryan Smyth at the 2007 trade deadline for a No. 1 and two prospects, have a plethora of young assets throughout the organization-with some currently on the Island-that could put them into prime position to acquire Kovalchuk.
The NHL trade deadline is March 3, but deals are expected before the Feb. 12-28 Olympic roster freeze goes into effect.
It is believed that while the club would quarantine NHL emerging talents John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey, Snow would be willing to part with this year's first-rounder in addition to presenting a "One from Column A/One from Column B menu" that could feature Oshawa defenseman Calvin de Haan; Brandon defensemen Travis Hamonic; Saskatoon defenseman Jyri Niemi; Russian winger Kirill Petrov, currently playing for Almetivsk; and 22-year-old winger Jesse Joensuu, currently playing for AHL Bridgeport.
Snow declined comment when reached by phone this morning by The Post.
Acquiring Kovalchuk would give the Islanders a huge boost on the ice in their effort to make the playoffs, it would give them a marquee box office attraction and a presence in New York sports they currently do not have.
It is unknown whether Kovalchuk, who is expected to receive a huge offer from the KHL should he reach July 1 unrestricted free agency, would be willing to sign a long-term deal with the Islanders if one were offered.
There is, however, no question that Kovalchuk's presence on the Islanders would increase their value as club owner Charles Wang seeks either a new venue or a buyer for his team.
Interestingly, the Islanders were in position to select Kovalchuk with the first-overall pick of the 2001 draft by finishing with the NHL's worst record in 2000-01. At that time, Kovalchuk expressed enthusiasm at the prospect at playing on Long Island.
But the Thrashers, who'd finished third from the bottom, won the lottery and thus moved up to first overall. GM Mike Milbury then traded the second overall pick plus Zdeno Chara to the Senators for Alexei Yashin.
I put the most interesting (and most humorous) part of this in bold. To me, this is like Lombardi saying, you can't have Schenn, Clifford, Bernier or Loktionov, but feel free to pick one of Teubert or Hickey and one of Purcell, Lewis or Zatkoff. Who knew the price was going to be so low?