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Superstar dilemma

Ilya Kovalchuk has 26 points in 26 games for Atlanta this year and has one more year on his current deal. (Getty Images)

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Ilya Kovalchuk has 26 points in 26 games for Atlanta this year and has one more year on his current deal. (Getty Images)

As the Atlanta Thrashers stumbled their way into December, reports popped up suggesting GM Don Waddell might consider shopping superstar left winger Ilya Kovalchuk.

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calling for Waddell to move the talented Russian this season appears to be the basis of the trade chatter. With the Thrashers falling in the standings, the report suggested Waddell shouldn’t bother waiting until next season – Kovalchuk’s last on his current contract – to start peddling him.

Kovalchuk has said nothing publicly, although if the Thrashers continue to struggle, it’s likely unsubstantiated rumors citing “those close to Kovalchuk” claiming he wants out could start making the rounds.

His current contract might also make him an attractive commodity. If, as some predict, the NHL’s salary cap declines in the 2010-11 season perhaps some GMs would be interested in taking on an offensive superstar under contract until the end of next season.

Rather than dipping into next summer’s crop of potential free agents - where some will command more than Kovalchuk’s current $6.4 million per season stipend - Kovie would be an affordable option as a short-term acquisition,

Waddell would undoubtedly get a nice return regardless of when he shops Kovalchuk. If he does decide to shop him this season it’ll likely be closer to the trade deadline to maximize the return. 

- The circus surrounding Sean Avery’s recent round of boorish behavior earned him a six-game suspension, but overshadowed the pressing issue of his future with the Dallas Stars.

Avery’s antics embarrassed the franchise and co-GM Brett Hull, who vouched for the pesky winger last summer, faces an uphill battle to convince the organization to give Avery a second chance.

If team owner Tom Hicks decides Avery has to go, there’ll be nothing Hull can do about it.

Dumping him, however, won’t be easy. If the Stars try to use this suspension as an excuse to void Avery’s contract it could result in a nasty legal battle with the NHLPA. 

They could try to trade him, but given his dubious reputation, it’s doubtful they’ll find any takers at this time.

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Avery could also be demoted, but as the Stars currently lack an American League affiliate they’ll have to scour the league to find teams willing to take him on. They cannot demote him to the ECHL because he has the right of refusal.

Should he be demoted, the Stars would still have to pay his $3.875 million salary, but it wouldn’t count against their cap.

Ultimately, the Stars could be stuck with Avery for at least the remainder of this season and then consider buying out the remainder of his contract during next June’s buyout period.

- If the Chicago Blackhawks eventually end up making a trade for a second line center, defenseman Brent Sopel could be part of a trade package.
 
The Chicago Tribune reported Sunday that the veteran blueliner has seen his ice time reduced this season and with blueliner James Wisniewski due to return from injury, Sopel could become the odd man out.

- J.P. Barry, the agent for unrestricted free agent center Mats Sundin, recently suggested his client could be ready to make a decision on his future by Dec. 15.

To refresh your memory, the Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning are believed to be interested in Sundin’s services.

- A lack of depth at forward recently forced the Minnesota Wild to press defenseman Brent Burns into service as a winger, prompting talk GM Doug Risebrough is possibly shopping a defenseman for a forward.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune listed defensemen Marek Zidlicky, Kim Johnsson and Marc-Andre Bergeron as potential trade candidates, although the play of Zidlicky and Johnsson might make them too valuable to move at this time.

Bergeron has been well-traveled in his career and is considered a one-dimensional blueliner, although his big shot might attract interest from teams seeking help with their power play.

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

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