Big Hockey News Day
Stunning news on two NHL fronts.
First, the Columbus Blue Jackets have in the last few hours fired head coach Ken Hitchcock and replaced him with assistant coach Claude Noel. After making the playoffs last season, the Jackets are 14th in the Western Conference, and Hitchcock's status has been in question for weeks.
Still, it's a shocker, particularly with Hitchcock set to be one of Team Canada's coaches at the upcoming Vancouver Olympics under head coach Mike Babcock. Amazingly, it's the second time this has happened to Hitchcock in an Olympic year when he was set to coach for Canada. The Dallas Stars fired him in late January, 2002, and he went on to win a gold medal as an assistant under Pat Quinn.
Meanwhile, reports from RDS and TSN today confirm Atlanta GM Don Waddell has told star winger Ilya Kovalchuk to expect a trade, sooner as opposed to later.
Let the auction begin.
If the price for Phil Kessel was two firsts and a second, what could it be for Kovalchuk, a 26-year-old forward with 328 career goals in eight seasons?
The difference is, of course, that Kovalchuk is an unrestricted free agent in July, so this could just be a rental situation, with the KHL possibly looming in the background with — allegedly — a $15 milion-a-year bid.
Kovalchuk's never had much team success in Atlanta, but he did score the gold medal winning goal for Russian the Quebec City world championships, and he's a proven, money-in-the-bank 40- to 50-goal man, and a big power forward to boot.
The Leafs, in case you're wondering, won't be in this one. Don't have the goods to make a deal even if they wanted to.
Boston, L.A., Chicago and Philly, among others, are all lining up with a bid, but the price will be absolutely fascinating. Calgary, meanwhiile, could be in the mix, and a hard pitch for Kovalchuk would make the emphasis on quantity over quality in two recent deals by Darryl Sutter make sense.
The best fit? Probably L.A., where the Kings have the players and the payroll flexibiity. But is this the right time for that team to make this move when they probably can neither win the Cup nor guarantee Kovalchuk will play for them beyond this season.
What about the Hawks? Might they be worried enough about Patrick Kane's maturity to do a Kane-for-Kovalchuk swap just as the Thrashers and Senators once combined on a Dany Heatley-for-Marian Hossa deal?
This story is going to heat up in a hurry.