After Kovy, Waddell Should Have Little On His Mind

Last March, on trade deadline day, the radio voice of the Thrashers Dan Kamal commented on XM’s NHL Live that re-signing Ilya Kovalchuk was “priority one” for the team and that “there is no 1-a or 1-b” regarding this issue. As I’ve opined previously, I agree with Kamal that there is no higher priority than getting the captain to put pen to paper on a new contract and that is where the bulk of Don Waddell’s attention should be right now. However, there are a couple other players on the roster that I wouldn’t mind seeing Waddell take care of as well…sooner rather than later.

Of the forwards that are expected to play in Atlanta this season, there are but four that are under contract past next summer. Todd White, Chris Thorburn and Marty Reasoner are signed through the 2010-11 season.. after that, they’ll become UFAs. Then there is Nik Antropov who signed a 4-year contract in July.

Spencer Machacek is under contract for this season and next, but it’s yet to be seen whether he’ll play in Atlanta or not this year.

Colby Armstrong, Slava Kozlov, Jim Slater, Eric Boulton and Rich Peverley are all scheduled to be UFAs after this year…Bryan Little is set to be a restricted free agent.

And while Army and the Peever are two that I would like to see signed to extensions as early as possible, the name on that list that I feel should be placed on a priority level just below Kovalchuk is Bryan Little.

Bryan Little will be a RFA next summer (AP Photo/Don Heupel)

Bryan Little will be a RFA next summer (AP Photo/Don Heupel)

Last season, in his first full year of play, the 12th pick in the 2006 draft did everything he needed to do in order to show he is indeed ready to play at this level full time. His 31 goals were second on the team, behind Kovy’s 43, and his 51 overall points was good enough for fourth… between White’s 73 and Armstrong’s 40. Those numbers solidified his role as a top-six forward on this team.

He began the year as a part of the only line that was able to generate points on a consistent basis…playing to right White and opposite Slava Kozlov. At the mid-point of the campaign, that line had accounted for 48 of the team’s 124 goals…Little had 19 of them…and had amassed 113 combined points during that time. It was the lone bright spot during the season’s first half that was otherwise painful to watch.

Toward the end of the season, Little was primarily playing on the right side of Kovalchuk’s top line and continued to produce offensively once there…whether it was White or Peverley at the pivot.

In the fall of 2007, he made the team during training camp and played with the Thrashers to begin the year. On opening night, just after the Thrashers’ division championship banner was raised, he scored the only goal for the team during a 3-1 loss to the Capitals. In doing so, he became the first Thrasher to score in his NHL debut. He was demoted later in the season to play in Chicago, but there he helped the John Anderson-coached Wolves on their way to an AHL championship. However, in 48 games played at the NHL level that season, he produced 6 goals and 10 assists.

Little is one of those players that will, in my opinion, live up to the hype given of his potential. It is not inconceivable that he could be pushing 40 goals and/or 75 points this coming season. If he has that kind of year, his price will do nothing but go up all the more…and deservedly so.

This is why I feel that right after Ilya Kovalchuk, Don Waddell should have Little on is agenda.

162 comments Add your comment

R. Stroz

August 17th, 2009
9:18 am

Alan

August 17th, 2009
10:08 am

The Earl of Bud

August 17th, 2009
10:17 am

I think the main thing I want Waddell to do is break the “no negotiations during the season” thing. Granted there can be a million other reasons for doing that that we don’t know about. But if Little isn’t signed by opening night and he does start heating up, do we wait until next offseason? I don’t mind as much because he is restricted, but still.

I don’t think it’s so bad that so few forwards are signed past next year. Kozlov is sailing into the sunset so we don’t need him signed per se. If Kovalchuk gets signed (let’s just say he does otherwise this is the least of our problems) you really only have to take care of the RFA Little and then depending on how Peverley does. That’s your top 6 taken care of (I am planning on someone new coming in for Kozlov). Reasoner is signed and given that Armstrong was just extended for a 1 year deal there is some other plan there for Colby so now your 3rd line is pretty well settled. We don’t even know who the 3rd LW will be for this year so no need to worry about the LW for next year. Slater will sign here so I am not going to worry about the 4th line.

Buzilla in CT

August 17th, 2009
10:34 am

Buzilla in CT

August 17th, 2009
10:34 am

Fourth….damn, no metal

Smoothie

August 17th, 2009
11:18 am

Has anyone been able to access the Thrashers rumour link on the Spector’s Hockey website? Every time I click on it, my computer aborts the operation…not sure if there is a glitch on their website or with my PC. Anyone have the scoop? Probably much ado about nothing (reporting that no we don’t have any interest in Zherdev), but it sure would be nice to hear Manny Malhotra is having a change of heart and now wants a 2 year deal worth $3.5 M because Kovalchuk convinced him this team has the makings of a contender! ‘Cha right and then hockey pucks will fly out of my butt!

Your Mammy

August 17th, 2009
11:59 am

You are correct Iceman , not much for Waddell to worry about after Kovy…..hopefully it will be easy!

R.Skeen

August 17th, 2009
12:01 pm

Smoothie if you click on the comments button it should take you to it that worked for me atleast

World Be Free

August 17th, 2009
12:20 pm

I did not know Don had the “no negotiations during the season” rule. Maybe that will change with Duds, since I believe Dudley signed with the WHA during the 74-75 season.

Signing Kovy is the #1 objective, #2 getting vet help. No idea what Manny is up to. EOB-sorry to see you mentioned Slater again. I had forgotten the stiff was resigned.

Still going over McCartney’s tunes in my head from Saturday.

The Earl of Bud

August 17th, 2009
12:58 pm

WBF, Waddell actually had that rule at one point but then broke it as he negotiated with Hossa. But in other key dealings in the past referred to it and did not negotiate during the season. So I am not sure if it is still a hard and fast rule. Obviously in the case of Little, or even Peverley, I hope he can break it to lock them up if they start out fast.

World Be Free

August 17th, 2009
1:00 pm

Let’s hope Duds influences these decisions.

Brendan

August 17th, 2009
1:02 pm

To the best of my knowledge, the one and only proactive contract Don Waddell has ever written went to Toby Enstrom, last September/October. Hopefully, Toby’s lackluster year, by comparison, hasn’t put DW off the concept of “proactive contracts.” Bryan Little may have another banner year. Or, he could slip a little. This is why they play the games. My point is this: “It sends the ‘right message’ to offer him a PROACTIVE contract.” Stop. How could that ever be the ‘wrong message?’ This market has trouble with player retention. And attracting UFA, out on the open market. Locking up THRASHER DRAFT PICKS sends a message that … a player can have a long career, right here in Atlanta. They’ll get paid. They’ll be respected. They’ll be treated fairly. They’ll get credit for their hard work.

Get it done, Waddell.

polskidawg

August 17th, 2009
1:04 pm

I have to admit that I was quite surprised and happy over Little’s scoring touch last season. He looks like a natural scoring RW rather than a center, which was/is a need on this team anyway.

I’m somewhat with Earl of Bud on this – Little could wait due to his being a RFA. I’d actually wait with Peverly as well, simply to see if last season was a peak or a hint of good things to come.

Really, Armstrong is the only one of that list that I’d work on sooner rather than later. He seems to be a “glue” guy on this team.

GaVaHokie

August 17th, 2009
1:08 pm

Smoothie… it’s just a stupid story from Kevin Allen about Kovalchuk possibly going to the KHL after this season.

http://spectorshockey.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=461:nhl-rumors-august-17-2009&catid=5:trade-rumors&Itemid=4

World Be Free

August 17th, 2009
1:25 pm

I am banking on the quick resign, similar to what Columbus did with Rick Nash. If Kovy really was what is best fpr the team, he’ll avoid delaying his decision through the season.

The Earl of Bud

August 17th, 2009
1:35 pm

“Really, Armstrong is the only one of that list that I’d work on sooner rather than later. He seems to be a “glue” guy on this team.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but a player who is on a 1 year contract cannot get an extension until January 1st. So even if Waddudley and Armstrong agreed right now to a new contract league rules prohibit us from signing him for the rest of the calendar year.

Sara

August 17th, 2009
1:41 pm

Allen’s a maroon. Of course KHL teams are going to offer Kovy huge contracts next summer if he isn’t signed. He’s a gifted player and a friggin’ national hero. And while I think Kovy does have long-term aspirations about playing at home in Mother Russia, right now all he talks about is winning the Stanley Cup and he can’t do that in the KHL.

Toby

August 17th, 2009
1:52 pm

Not sure he thinks he could do that in Atlanta either :(

Tony C.

August 17th, 2009
1:59 pm

Glovesave29

August 17th, 2009
2:30 pm

A maroon…classic! Someones been watching Bugs Bunny lately. And kudos to you for that!!

I’d sign Bryan to an extension now. He’s a got a great future in this league and we need to show him he is a vital part of our future. It also sends the message to Kovy about locking up those who we plan to grow on. What I like best about Little’s game is that he has damn soft hands – the man can take almost any pass, but then he does good things with the puck once he has it. He’s calm in the tight areas around the net. There was nothing “flukey” about his growth last year and I expect more of the same.

EOB – yeah, you can add Brett Hull to that list. He’s everything his Dad wasn’t. Bobby is a great guy, and ambassador for the game – don’t buy that silly story that was in the Russian newspaper about him being a bigot. I had the pleasure to spend a few days with him when he was in town about 10 years back for an autograph show. We talked about this issue. As an MOT who grew up here in the south, i’ve unfortunatley met some bigots. Bobby Hull in not one of them. A classy, nice guy. Now, i’ve never met Brett, but i’ve heard little nice about him…

The Earl of Bud

August 17th, 2009
2:45 pm

Glovesave, just remember this about Brett, and it speaks to him both on and off the ice – he’s got one foot in the crease and the other in his mouth.

ranallo10 (in AT)

August 17th, 2009
2:53 pm

It’d be great if every prospect to come through the Atlanta system were as successful as Enstrom, Little, and now Bogosian have been. Granted none of them really cut their teeth at the AHL level (Little being the exception), but it’s nice to see some Atlanta drafted talent playing top 2 pairing/line minutes for Atlanta.

Byran Little is “the man”, plain and simple. Bogosian is a stud, Kovalchuk is a superstar, but I’d say right now Little is my “favorite” Atlanta player. I was really happy to see him play well this past season, I hope he can build on that success.

Smoothie

August 17th, 2009
3:17 pm

Thanks Hokie! Didn’t think I was missing anything special. We probably won’t hear anything about potential FA acquisitions at least until camp starts or even after a few pre-season games if certain guys are still unsigned.

ranallo: right on! Little has made huge strides from his frosh campagin to his sophomore. It was fairly apparent in the season opener last year (Little had two goals) that he had added significant core and leg strength as he was not only more explosive to loose pucks, but he was noticeably stronger along the half-boards and in the corners. Eventually, that became even more readily apparent when he started camping out in front of the net on the PP and scoring goals regularly.

Go Bryan!! Let’s hope he imrpoves another 20 goals!! ;-)

GaVaHokie

August 17th, 2009
3:41 pm

I think the best part about our current prospects is that their names “pop up” in places other than Thrashers linkage… like US Development Teams, U18 Tournaments, Frozen Four, Junior All-Stars, etc… these guys are achieving and getting accolades.

O’Dell, Machachek, Holzapfel, Morin, Kane, Espo, Postma, Saponari.

The Earl of Bud

August 17th, 2009
3:44 pm

ranallo10 (in AT) in terms of hockey I think “who’s jersey would you buy“? It’s so easy to put on a Kovy jersey, but some of the really good fans are the ones that can find the niche players that are great but don’t have the superstar status. While I hate the one armed Atlanta jerseys, I was thinking of getting a Little one soon myself.

The Earl of Bud

August 17th, 2009
4:08 pm

GaVaHokie they are popping up in places like that. This last weekend Morin & Saponari just tallied some points this weekend in the USA-Russia junior games. In the 4 games all were high scoring but Saponari & Morin each had 1 goal and 2 assists over the 4 games. Apparantley Morin’s came on an unassisted breakaway that was nice.

lee

August 17th, 2009
4:23 pm

hurry up and get it done, waddell we shouldn’t be wastin presious time now.

EOB- definetly agree, the fans that pick the most popular players probably aren’t the most loyal. if u think about it, kovy is a great goal scorer, but wat about the best goalie or assist player?? i had a exebly jersey but now that he’s traded im trying to get a hedberg or little.ex was a great D, and some ppl choose kovy over ex. nothing wrong with kovy, i mean KOVY ROCKS, but really?? , at least half of the fans in the arena are probably wearin a kovy jersey. that’s just my opinion, anyone agree?

***im just sayin

The Earl of Bud

August 17th, 2009
4:30 pm

lee the only way I disagree with you is when I see the Russian Kovalchuk jerseys or his all star jersey. Those I like seeing a ton more but it would be die hard fans that would have those so I guess it wouldn’t apply to your theory.

GaVaHokie, I just went back and look at the full stats from all the scrimmages that they are counting for the junior camp and Morin is 3rd on the team in points. He is also 2nd in PIM and got in a fight against Russia. What is more refreshing is the number of times he and Jordan Schroeder (top scorer and 1st round pick last draft) get an assist on each other’s goals so they must be on the top line together.

Glovesave29

August 17th, 2009
5:30 pm

I’ve got the sweeeeeet AS jersey from the game in Minnesota. The beige throwback style with the “37″ patch on the arm. Although it blows to wear it against the Wings as it looks too close to their jersey. As for wearing Kovy’s name – he’s the longest tenured and highest scoring Thrasher, so I have no problem with it. I can appreciate the fringe player (my USA WCOH jersey is Joel Otto!), but if youre shelling out $80 for personalization (and not the crap job they do at Philips – I am talking about the double stitched AND heated on tackle twill numbers) you might as well get your favorite. I expect to see more Littles, Bogos and Enstroms this season.

Anyone seen the new USA jersey for the Vancouver games? The IOC decided no logos from each nations sanctioning body were allowed. So the USA with the red stripes flowing off of the S is gone, as is the red/black maple leaf with the player in it for Canada. Since when does the IOC hate corporate logos? I seem to remember EVERYTHING was sponsored here in Atlanta. Anyhoo – the jersey is pretty bad. No arm stripes. Red and white waist striped and simple white block USA across the chest. Find it on http://www.puckdrawn.com

Brendan

August 17th, 2009
5:33 pm

Just for furtherance of Bryan Little discussions, let’s talk numbers. (This is always fun. Rolling eyes, and waiting for bloggers to start calling each other idiots.) If you were the GM, what kind of offer would you make, PROACTIVELY, for Bryan Little? Are you thinking 5-years/$25 million? Are you thinking 3-years/$12 million? Are you thinking 6-years/$25.5 million? Are you thinking about an 8-year deal? If so, that pays him until he’s 29. Are you thinking, “There’s no way I go over $3.0 million-per-year?” Or, are you thinking about Thomas Vanek’s deal, when a 2nd year player got a seven year/$50 million deal, for a cap hit of $7.143 million, roughly? Vanek went 5th overall, in 2003. Bryan Little went 12th overall, 2006.

Remember, at age 25, with seven NHL seasons, a player can become an unrestricted free agent. He’s 21 now. He’ll be 22 in November. Are you thinking six years or more, in an effort not to be paying UFA prices, during those UFA years? Are you thinking more like $3.0 to $3.5 million? For that figure, 5-years would be between $15-$17.5 million. Would you think that $4 million-per-season felt “right?”

We bloggers may be all over the map on this one. I tell you right now. I’m going to forgive Waddell for overpaying, if he can land Bryan Little now. It might take Little a few seasons to grown into the dollar value of the contract. But when he’s 24-25, his deal might be regarded as a STEAL.

Remember, one of the goals of a PROACTIVE contract is to ECONOMIZE a bit on the player down the road. Keep something else in mind, as you make your calculations, Atlanta’s market has to pay a little bit more. That’s just the way it is. You also want to be sure that your offer doesn’t “insult” the player. How do you avoid doing that? Well, you’ve got to look at similar production from similarly aged RFA players, who play the same position, (2nd line forward,) then project GROWTH and DEVELOPMENT for Little.

I don’t know who Little’s agent is. Maybe he’s telling Bryan, “Look, kid. You pot 35-40 goals this year, and we can start to entertain RFA offersheets of $5 million or more for you. Let’s wait.” Maybe Bryan Little would be so moved by a PROACTIVE contract, that he’d agree to sign 5-6 years, forgoing some of his UFA money. Discuss.

Toronto Fan

August 17th, 2009
5:47 pm

You guys are going to love Antropov and Kubina. We had to shake up our team but those two athletes are gifted players. Look for Antropov to score 30.

R. Stroz

August 17th, 2009
5:54 pm

Brendan – I attribute Enstrom’s proactive contract to the concerted efforts of a bunch of us crazy bloggers that tried to get enough write-in votes to get Enstrom in the All-Star Game in Atlanta a few years back. Waddell noticed all the write-in votes and decided he better keep this kid around. Yes, I’m being facetious…well somewhat.

Maybe, in the future, we should start a write-in campaign for any player that we wish Waddell to proactively re-sign.

ranallo10 (in AT)

August 17th, 2009
7:21 pm

So we should all write-in Kovalchuk …?

Rawhide

August 17th, 2009
8:20 pm

Toronto Fan – Thanks…we’re all excited about seeing how they contribute this year! Check in more often.

EveryoneDid you see this…the judged tossed the Spririt’s bid to buy out Belkin.

Dwayne

August 17th, 2009
8:31 pm

6 yr at 4.5 mil

Dwayne

August 17th, 2009
8:32 pm

The Earl of Bud

August 17th, 2009
8:47 pm

Brendan I’ll play this game with ya. I would offer Little a contract that ends in his final year of RFA status, similar to what we are doing with Lehtonen. He should be pleased with a 3 year deal with a good bump. And if he does blow, we aren’t on the hook for a Hossa type deal. If it was a 3 year deal he would be just turning 25 that season but it would only be his 6th season (Slater was just 25 and had less than 7 years so this deal he just signed was as a RFA). That would be his last year of RFA status and signed through 2012/13. Then we negotiate before the 2013/14 season and he is still restricted. If this doesn’t jive with the CBA let me know where I am off. While I stated earlier I don’t want to give too much too soon, I think this makes both parties happy and if he gets to at least the $3 mil range that’s a nice increase over the $850 thousand he is making now. If he gets the same contract as Enstrom I think that is not bad if it does it for 3 years and we renegotiate with him when he is restricted. Or maybe we bump it up with that in mind.

Alan

August 17th, 2009
9:20 pm

Rawhide, this caught my attention:

Belkin, however, does have the right to appeal Monday’s decision.

My reaction: “Aw, hell. Here we go again!”

Midfield

August 17th, 2009
10:38 pm

What caught my attention is that – unlike the Hawks – the Thrashers are not tied to the Philips lease and can be moved.

Tony C.

August 17th, 2009
11:13 pm

“Unlike the Hawks, the Thrashers are not tied to a 30-year bond payment-agreement for Philips Arena and could be moved.”

=

We’re F#$^#@!

R. Stroz

August 17th, 2009
11:29 pm

It’s time for the NHL to step in and force action since a court decision has been reached. For all intents and purposes, millions of dollars and years of time have been expended on a legal battle which resolved NOTHING. The entire situation is back at square one.

At this point, the ownership problems in Atlanta differ little from the situation in Tampa, except the ASG has more petulant owners than Tampa.

Smoothie

August 17th, 2009
11:53 pm

Midfield – what are you talking about? That was not in the article that was linked. That statement is flat-out wrong. The Thrashers ARE tied to the operating lease, check ur facts please.

Brendan

August 18th, 2009
12:40 am

R.Stroz, I keep hoping the NHL has a clause, or will CREATE one in the next CBA, that can remove incompetent owners, as it deems fit. And, when that situation occurs, that the NHL step in to run the team until suitable ownership can be found. I’d be in favor of that.

I know I have wished the NHL would step in and run the Thrashers several times over the past four seasons.

Let’s keep those Bryan Little contract discussions coming. It’s been good so far. Good ideas are being tossed around for a potential proactive RFA contract.

Brian Rudisel

August 18th, 2009
12:48 am

FORTY-THIRD!

My only thought is that Kovalchuk has been pretty clear that he wants to see that the Thrashers are headed in the right direction. In order to really see that, it’s going to take quite a few games of the season, perhaps half of the season. I will honestly be shocked if Kovy signs before October, let alone before training camp. Patience is the key. Antropov and Kubina are only the solutions on paper, but how are they when they hit the ice in a Thrashers uniform under coach John Anderson? Your guess is as good as mine.

With that said, next offseason may be just as important as this offseason. Lot of pending free agents, and convincing the other valuables (i.e. Bryan Little) that Atlanta is where they want to stay. If Kovalchuk doesn’t sign during the season, you better believe Don Waddell will be more hellbent than ever on signing him before July 1st, and until he signs elsewhere. And in that worst-case scenario, it will put a damper on giving Little a qualifying offer. Guys like Slater and Peverley, in said scenario, will become hot depth players on the market and could get scooped up quick if they don’t sign after next season.

Rebuilding the team means looking at the big picture, and focusing all attention on Kovalchuk would be short sighted if we don’t play our cards right. We need Kovalchuk, but do you ever believe that obsessing over re-signing him could get a bit dangerous, given it could impact the rest of the Thrashers future?

If I were GM, I would even toy with the idea of signing Bryan Little first. Following after Toby’s and Marty’s extension, the more players that believe in the Thrashers enough to re-sign may be a good indicator of the team heading in the right direction, and a good indicator to convince Kovalchuk to pursue the team.

Brendan

August 18th, 2009
12:53 am

“Could” is an interesting word. The sun could explode tomorrow. The Earth could shift off its axis, altering weather and gravity as we once knew them. William Hung could win a Grammy(TM). Pauly Shore could win an Oscar (TM). The Thrashers could leave Philips Arena. But would that make any kind of sense to the ownership group, who needs that annual naming rights revenue from Philips? Philips is on the hook until 2019, I believe. That was the deal they made. And the deal was contingent upon two major pro teams occupying the facility. Just because some city bonds don’t obligate them, supposedly, doesn’t mean the Thrashers would really up and leave.

Are there any overweight people reading this blog? The fastest way to lose eight to ten pounds is to cut off your head. Would you do it? Allrighteee then. The Thrashers aren’t going anywhere. And the NHL has rules about keeping teams in place, for certain periods of time, when there’s an ownership change. “Could” is an interesting word.

LAC

August 18th, 2009
5:54 am

Now watch what happens…

Simon

August 18th, 2009
6:14 am

Lets talk about an extension for Byron Young…

Rawhide

August 18th, 2009
6:35 am

Simon – Yes…Byron Young. One of E.J. Hradek’s favorite players!!

Sara

August 18th, 2009
7:18 am

Brendan it isn’t even just the naming rights revenue that’s going to matter to Spirit either. They own the operating rights to the arena – which means they stand to make money from the minimum 41 home games the Thrashers play in Philips each season. I don’t think they could drum up enough “Disney on Ice” and Miley Cyrus concerts to fill that void. Additionally, the Thrashers are responsible for a portion of the lease payment on the arena. If the Thrashers are sold to a local owner, that owner is now responsible for that portion of the payment, taking more financial pressure off Spirit. If they sell to someone who moves the team, Spirit is still solely responsible for 100% of that lease payment, except without having any revenue from the Thrashers to offset it. It’s possible that the Thrashers’ portion of the lease payment is less than the losses they are annually posting – which makes it a net-sum gain to ship the Thrashers out and make the lease payment from Hawks/Arena revenue. But it’s still a much smarter business model to make someone else bear part of that expense instead.

Sara

August 18th, 2009
7:32 am

BTW, I wouldn’t count on the League being some big savior for the franchise. Keep in mind they backed Spirit in the first place over David McDavid. They are responsible for Boots del Baggio in Nashville. And the situation in Phoenix really calls for close scrutiny. The League is showing signs of buckling on the relocation argument. Every time they have to have this fight (first with Pittsburgh, then Nashville, now Phoenix), the resolve weakens and their position weakens and the pressure from other interested venues, particularly from north of the border, strengthens. If it were anyone other than Jim Balsillie, I don’t think Bettman would be this entrenched in the fight now.

And outside of Bettman, the ones fighting hardest to retain the Coyotes are the city officials (no offense to the fans) – because they don’t want to lose the lease payments. That’s NOT an issue here. Whether the Thrashers stay or go, Spirit will remain and will make the lease payments. Technically the city loses nothing if the Thrashers leave. And while there are some great fans in ATL, it’s not enough of the overall population to put up enough of a fight. As scary as this is, as fans, we are going to have to trust Atlanta Spirit to be the guardians of hockey in Atlanta. And now I think I have to go throw up.