Thrashers ready to give Kovalchuk the hard sell

Other moves notwithstanding, Ilya Kovalchuk remains the only player on the Thrashers' roster most people can identify. (AP photo)

Other moves notwithstanding, Ilya Kovalchuk remains the only player on the Thrashers' roster most can identify. (AP photo)

In the past several weeks, the Thrashers have signed a free agent forward (Nik Antropov), traded for a top-four defenseman (Pavel Kubina) and drafted potential top scorer (Evander Kane). Whether they keep the only player that most people walking around the streets of Atlanta can actually identify is another matter.

Negotiations are expected to heat up this week between general manager Don Waddell and Ilya Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman. The two sides aren’t saying much publicly that they haven’t said before. Waddell sent me an email Monday, saying: “It’s our goal to sign Ilya to a long-term deal.” Grossman declined comment. (He’s known as a tough agent, but issuing negotiating rhetoric to the media isn’t his thing.)

Kovalchuk has a year left on his contract at $7.5 million. Theoretically, his new deal could pay him up to $11.2 million per season (20 percent of the NHL salary cap of $56 million). The bigger issue is term: The NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement has no cap on length of contract. For example, former Thrasher Marian Hossa just signed a 12-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks (no doubt clinching the Cup for the Blackhawks in 13 years).

But the Thrashers’ negotiations with Kovalchuk will be different than those they had with Hossa. Kovlachuk seems to be looking for a reason to stay here. I’m not sure that ever was the case with Hossa, who wasn’t drafted by the team and never really adopted Atlanta as a home the way Kovalchuk has. Hossa also wanted a chance to win the Stanley Cup immediately (as shown by his ill-fated decision to leave Pittsburgh and sign a one-year deal with Detroit, which then lost to the Penguins in the finals).

Kovalchuk was the Thrashers’ team captain last season. He developed into more of a leader than Hossa ever was. That said, he wants to win. He wants to walk into the locker room when the Thrashers open training camp and think the franchise is at least moving in the direction of being a legitimate contender.

The belief is, it’s going to take far more than his own contract to get him to sign. He’s going to have to be convinced that ownership and Waddell are committed to building a winner — and that they’re capable of it. Neither has been the case so far. Waddell has been the architect from day one and built only one playoff team in nine seasons. Ownership is fractured, remains tied up in litigation, could be for sale at some point and is holding the line on overall payroll (the Thrashers’ projected team payroll of $42 to $45 million will be far below the cap).

If you’re Kovalchuk, there is no real advantage to signing now and passing up unrestricted free agency after the season, when potentially another franchise in far better shape could compete for his services, and probably pay just as much. For him to sign an extension now, he has to be swayed.

I’m not quite as pessimistic about Kovalchuk re-signing as I used to be. Part of the reason is, he helped recruit Antropov. It’s clear he’s being kept in the loop and the team is doing all they can to convince him to stay. But it’s sort of like the Wizard telling Dorothy, “Pay no attention to that franchise history behind the curtain. We’re going to do things right now!”

Re-signing Kovalchuk would be step one. But it’s only step one.

74 comments Add your comment

World Be Free

July 20th, 2009
12:35 pm

The direction of the team, especially the signing of Rick Dudley should work in the Thrashers’ favor. I doubt a current, Stanley Cup competitive team would be in a aposition to give him the kind of money he WILL get from the Thrashers.

It all makes sense to get him signed before the start of training camp.

The Real Fan

July 20th, 2009
12:38 pm

Signing Kovy is required reading!

Homer

July 20th, 2009
1:14 pm

FIRE SCHULTZ!!!

SimpleDawg

July 20th, 2009
1:16 pm

The fish rots from the head…..

Ownership must be stablized first. The Thrashers and Hawks would both benefit from another ownership group or person. The current cast of clowns should be run out of town on a rail.

Who knows how hamstrung Waddell has been by the current ownership, but the fact remains that he has under performed in building a solid, consistently performing team even before the new circus came to town. The Thrashers have never played defense….we’ve had really good goaltending, but no defensive perimeter to make opposing teams work hard for their scores.

If Kovy leaves like all of the other stars we’ve had, then you can pack up the sticks and pucks because the Thrashers franchise will be done in Atlanta.

Save the circus. Sign the high wire guy….get rid of clowns.

Jeff Schultz

July 20th, 2009
1:20 pm

The Real Fan: Thank you. The Old Testament, the dictionary and Green Eggs and Ham also rank up there.

SimpleDawg — agreed, it always starts at the top.

Sara

July 20th, 2009
1:22 pm

Here’s my biggest concern over the Kovalchuk contract saga. I think any reasonable person can accept and understand that Kovy might want to take a wait and see approach to the coming season before signing on the dotted line. However we all remember well the hoopla when Hossa was in his final year and that’s only going to be worse with Kovy. The speculation around the League will be endless. The harm it could do in the room is unpredictable, but potentially immeasurable. And that could negatively impact the performance of the team, which then could ensure Kovy’s exit. A Catch-22 almost.

I’d almost recommend, if Kovy is hesitant, offering him a one or two year extension. Enough to stave off the speculation for at least this crucial season, but not so long that he couldn’t still leave for free agency while still in his prime.

I’m also hoping the market helps us out here a bit. There will not be 30 teams lining up for the services of Ilya Kovalchuk next summer should he hit free agency. Not that there aren’t 30 GMs who would love to have him (theoretically – some GMs can surprise you sometimes) but a number of teams are already facing the cap tango next off-season with their existing rosters, never mind trying to squeeze in a monstrous contract like Ilya’s (and he’s not going to come cheap for anyone). So can he get the money he (and Grossman) will want from a team more competitive than the Thrashers? Maybe…I wouldn’t rule out anything. But we’ll see.

WBF – I don’t know what difference Dudley’s hiring will have for Kovy. Historically at least, he and Waddell have had a pretty solid bond. That might have changed over time certainly. If Kovy thinks it’s been ineptitude on Waddell’s part that has held back the team, then maybe Dudley will be a positive factor. However, if Kovy is looking at ownership and questioning their commitment (particularly of the fiscal variety), then I’d say Waddell probably has the best chance of anyone to convince Kovalchuk to stay in Atlanta.

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 20th, 2009
1:28 pm

Signing Kovy in no way insures the Thrashers stay in town.

Smoothie

July 20th, 2009
1:32 pm

Shultzy, don’t discount the possibility that Kovalchuck might entertain the notion of a shorter 2 or 3 year contract and continue his wait-and-see approach beyond this season’s first several months. His agent would be wise to not get carried away with lofty salary expectations from another suitor as the salary cap is likely to decrease next season. And there are a lot of teams who have unwisely overspent on FA already this summer and won’t be able to compete with the Thrashers if they were to offer, let’s say $28 M over 3 years. The list of teams that can take on an additional hit of $8.5 – 10 M per year is pretty short.

Smoothie

July 20th, 2009
1:34 pm

Apologies for mis-spelling your name. Typing too fast!!

Aaron

July 20th, 2009
2:00 pm

Kovlachuk seems to be looking for a reason to stay here.

Just having this statement in print makes me very happy.

I’m not quite as pessimistic about Kovalchuk re-signing as I used to be.

Baby steps, Jeff.

The idea of Kovy signing a 1 or 2 year deal makes a ton of sense. See how the team goes, see how the salary cap goes. Maybe it recovers in 2 years. I think that was Army’s idea when he signed the 1 year deal last week.

Sage of Blueland

July 20th, 2009
2:04 pm

Face it: Kovalchuk is as good as gone, and the sheep just keep on grazing.

Believe in Blueland: the free agent launching pad and home of hockey-illiterate “fans.”

Steve Brown

July 20th, 2009
2:29 pm

It’s a race between the Thrashers making people (prospective buyers of the team) believe Kovy will eventually sign and the eventual sale of the team. Kovy and his agent know this and are playing the same game (let a sale go through and see what the new owners will offer). Without Kovy there isn’t much to buy. So in a way the current gaggle of owners and Kovy are aligned for the short term. Buyer beware!

GaVaHokie

July 20th, 2009
2:46 pm

Kovalchuk will sign… and Sage will spontaneously combust.

Sara… I would agree on the 2-3 year extension theory, but Kovy is due for a “home run” deal next summer… he might not want to take the chance of NOT getting that home run deal 2-3 years from now.

It’s all or nothing, I’m afraid.

Hossa cost himself about $20 million by chancing the Cup around instead of taking the sure thing with the Pittsburgh offer.

GaVaHokie

July 20th, 2009
2:47 pm

It’s a race between the Thrashers making people (prospective buyers of the team) believe Kovy will eventually sign and the eventual sale of the team. Kovy and his agent know this and are playing the same game (let a sale go through and see what the new owners will offer). Without Kovy there isn’t much to buy. So in a way the current gaggle of owners and Kovy are aligned for the short term. Buyer beware!

Wow… how’s the weather out there in Left Field?

Chris Broe

July 20th, 2009
2:48 pm

I’m not sure I understand the game of hockey enough to weigh in on whether these trades are wise ones. If only more people were honest we might have been spared this piece, eh?

Warning: I have noticed more and more AJC journalists making Oz references that make absolutely no sense. Knock it off, all of you. There are clever ways to use movie references, but they usually have some germane link to the topic. ” Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. It works when there is some coincidence between the mental picture created and the structural apparatus forming the set of Oz. (a veiled reference, as it were?)

GaVaHokie

July 20th, 2009
3:04 pm

Chris Broe… :)

“People who talk in metaphors should shampoo my crotch.” –Jack Nicholson in “As Good as It Gets”

Bob

July 20th, 2009
3:15 pm

Look at it this way, are Kubina and Antropov enough of an improvement to urge Kovy to sign a 10 year deal here? Nope, I expect this saga to play out all year and they’ll have to look at trading him at the deadlilne.

He won’t sign a short term deal, that’s just not gonna happen.

Hockey Biltong

July 20th, 2009
3:17 pm

Brendan

July 20th, 2009
3:22 pm

Kovy WANTS to stay, provisionally. And the provision is … that the ownership and GM will gun for the Cup, every single season, from now on. If the ownership and GM are unwilling to do this, Kovy will seek out a committed ownership and capable GM, elsewhere. But, ideally, I do think Kovalchuk would stay right here, if such ownership could be found.

There are advantages, for Kovy, to be here. No matter the size of the deal, he’ll pay lesser State income tax here, unless his next team is in Tennessee, Florida, or Texas. He and his family will enjoy a degree of anonymity here in Georgia. And the weather’s pretty good! It’s really about winning the Stanley Cup, right now, for Kovalchuk. He wants to do that. He wants to play for an organization committed to doing that.

Rutherford Seydell may well have been drunk when he said, on “Opening Night,” vs. the Washington Capitals, back in 2007, “We’re gonna do WHATEVER IT TAKES to bring a Stanley Cup right here to Atlanta.” I swear I heard the Capitals players laughing and snickering as he said it. The Thrashers raised their 2007 Southeast Division title banner to the rafters that night. The game, of course, was spoiled by the Capitals, who won, 3-1. Five games later, at a record of 0-6-0, was fired by Don Waddell, and replaced by … Don Waddell. For 76 games. I doubt that occurrence went UNNOTICED by Kovalchuk, in how he assesses the way in which the team has been run. In the 2007-08 season, Atlanta finished 28th in the league, at 76-points. They drafted 3rd overall, and took D-man, Zach Bogosian. Hopefully, Bogosian is one of the reasons Kovalchuk will elect to stay in Atlanta.

Brendan

July 20th, 2009
3:25 pm

For some reason, I didn’t mention that it was Bob Hartley fired by Waddell. It wasn’t that I consider Hartley to be “He who shall not be named.” It was a just “mea culpa” moment on my part.

zoltar

July 20th, 2009
3:34 pm

People said the same about Hossa, that he would re-sign. Kovy will leave, we have done nothing to improve the team. Kubina will be like all the other ” top d men” that we have brought in, and Antro is not the answer

Jeff Schultz

July 20th, 2009
3:40 pm

Sara — good points. I would be more confident about the Dudley hiring being a factor if he were actually running the organization. But the purse strings and the big picture still is being dictated by ownership.

Tim Dix — Agreed. But not signing him doesn’t help.

Smoothie — I guess you never know but that would surprise me. If he’s giving up free agency to sign an extension, why sign for short-term?

GaVaHokie — Not sure how much $ cost himself. He got a 12-year, $62.8 million contract. He did OK. But he certainly made the wrong call on teams before he got there (and maybe now).

Bill. B

July 20th, 2009
3:50 pm

I have to laugh at the notion that Kovy should sign a short-term deal, as if that would be in his best interests. He’s waited his entire career for the possibility of this big payday and you all want him to pass it up because it would be good for the Thrashers. Here’s the reality: if Ilya is going to resign it won’t be for any hometown discount. If the Thrashers want him they better be prepared to pay him $8.5-9 million because that’s what some other team looking to win a Cup is going to do. Ilya is a competitive guy and he sees what his countrymen Ovehckin and Malkin are making and he’s going to want at least the same money. Wouldn’t you?

David

July 20th, 2009
4:11 pm

I’ve been gone a while from thrashers blogs..I was the DW supporter…I’ve come back the DW hater…Fire that chump! Kick him to the curb! That is all…oh and if we don’t sign Kovy say good bye to hockey in A-town.

Sam

July 20th, 2009
4:12 pm

yeah, signing kovy is definetly a top priority, but, we need to consider other things too like free agents that r still avalible. we need to impress kovy if we want him to stay. the thing i want to know is when r we gonna hire dudley? i am perfectly fine with waddell staying, although he has made some mistakes.
-bill b. i definetly agree. i think those stupid owners should get ready to pay if they want to win the cup.
hossa discription-hmmmm well impaitent, selfish, money eater. yeah. that’s him. i think kovy is a much better player cuz he give the team a chance. kovy is the better player off and on ice.
-sara, i agree.
-i think nhl 10 for the xbox will be wicked!

GaVaHokie

July 20th, 2009
4:13 pm

Schultz… if Hossa had waited another 24 hours to see Khabibulin take off, and another week for Tallon to be fired, I wonder if he still signs? Chicago had no business signing Hossa with the RFA’s they have coming up next year anyway… not to mention John Madden and Kris Versteeg.

If you think Kovalchuk’s gonna get a lot of press this year not being signed? Chicago should be just as worse with their cap situation and Kane, Toews and Keith.

Sam

July 20th, 2009
4:14 pm

hey go easy on waddell!!! don’t beat him up. i will hav to say i would definetly hire dudley over waddell.

Sam

July 20th, 2009
4:15 pm

GaVaHokie-
yes, i agree. hossa is just a very impatiant player. he jjust wants to player with big guns and for big money.

Sam

July 20th, 2009
4:17 pm

y does atlanta hav to be loserville??
don’t get me wrong, i am a die hard hockey fan, but if the thrashers hav another suckish season, i will definetly disapoint me.

Sam

July 20th, 2009
4:19 pm

signing kovy is worth payin attention to!!!

Midfield

July 20th, 2009
4:27 pm

My guess is, Hossa’s quest for the Cup has been replaced by the retirement plan courtesy Chicago. If somehow or another the Cup is won along the way, that’d be a bonus, but after this futile Pens-Wings switcheroo, he must be thinking, “Ah, forget it.”

David

July 20th, 2009
4:27 pm

Anyone know when single game tickets will be available?…I get half off ticket price through company

Smoothie

July 20th, 2009
4:36 pm

Yeah, signing for 3 years and $9.5 M per season would really suck!! (insert rolling eyes emoticon here) Please remember that Kovy is only 26 y/o (he just turned 26!) and a 3 year deal worth between $28 – 30 M would still set him up for life.

There is something different about Kovy and my gut is telling me that he wants to be the cornerstone of a franchise that builds a winner from the ground up without having to acquire 5 or 6 mercenaries a la NYR or MTL.

I think he recognizes the potential of players like Bogosian, Little, Enstrom and Armstrong as well as younger guys like Kane, Esposito and Klingberg. He’s obviously excited about Antropov and must see Kubina as a definite upgrade for JA’s system. If nothing else, he will get to play a style of hockey that suits his game to a tee.

Kovy will only be 29 y/o at the end of a 3 year deal. Obviously it would be in Kovy’s best financial interests to sign a LT deal for an average of $9 M if at all possible. But if he’s not entirely certain, why not sign a shorter deal?

There are countless players to leave a team via UFA to join the highest bidder only to see that team struggle to make the playoffs or get beyond the first round. I think Ilya understands there are no guarantees when it comes to UFA.

I certainly won’t blame him for waiting til next summer and testing the open market. He has earned that right as a 7 year veteran. But he must also realize that his options will be limited to a handful of teams (prolly 5 or 6 including ATL) who can actually afford him without gutting their rosters or changing their complexion to the point of making future prospects almost as uncertain as the Thrashers.

Jeremy H

July 20th, 2009
4:48 pm

To be honest, I’d almost prefer constant short term deals as long as this ownership is in charge. I get the feeling that if Kovy agrees long term, they may be apt to ease back into their complacent, non-proactive ways.

Sara

July 20th, 2009
4:54 pm

For those scoffing at the idea of a short-term contract, let me make two salient points. One – there is no question (nor do I think there ever has been) that Kovy will get paid bank by the Thrashers. If he wants $10M a year, he’ll probably get it, whether it’s for 2 years or 12 years. Additionally, I’d be willing to put down money that the Thrashers place higher monetary value on Kovy than any other team in this League would.

Two – Rick Nash made some specific comments about his contract extension this summer – namely that with him not only being the franchise player but also the captain of the team – he didn’t want to put his teammates through a bunch of crap next season if his contract status was up in the air. It was a way to send the rest of his team a message that he’s committed and he believes in them.

There is no denying what being Captain means to Ilya. And he is absolutely the kind of stand-up guy that would think about how his *not* signing an extension would affect the rest of the team. Doesn’t guarantee he will, but that’s certainly the kind of thing that could motivate him to sign a short extension.

Fact is, logic has already been suspended when it comes to Kovy and ATL. He has made it quite clear he would like to remain here – there have even been undercurrents in his comments of being a Thrasher for life – as long as the team is competitive. Think about that phrase Thrasher for life…how many truly elite players would even condescend to play for this franchise much less be willing to commit themselves to it for the duration of their NHL careers? By all rights, this shouldn’t even be up for discussion and the only reason it is would be Kovy himself and all the things he personally has said over the last year. So don’t be too quick to make assumptions about what he will or will not do because with Kovy, leaps of faith are not out of the realm of possibility.

Sara

July 20th, 2009
4:55 pm

Jeremy – that is an excellent observation.

GaVaHokie

July 20th, 2009
4:56 pm

Kovalchuk needs to look no farther than Hossa and Ovechkin for the best examples of who’s better off long-term… salary-wise and organizational-wise.

GaVaHokie

July 20th, 2009
4:59 pm

Sara… I thought the same thing with Ovechkin in Washington… the team was still pretty horrible when he signed that lifetime contract… it doesn’t seem so stupid now.

I hope Kovalchuk will see Atlanta the same way.

[...] Full Story Here [...]

Brendan

July 20th, 2009
5:16 pm

Whether Kovalchuk takes some 12-13 year deal now, or waits 2-3 seasons to make a longer term contract, he’s going to get paid either way. At 28 or 29, teams are still going to offer $10 million a year, and/or FRONT LOAD that contract for him. No worries there. Barring a total collapse in the level of his play, or an … an … “I” word. Ya know, what happens to players when they appear on the cover of EA Sports games. That. If that happened, then that’s a risk, too.

But there’s been nothing to indicate Kovalchuk will be anything less than a 40-60 goal man, in any given season. Even on a lackluster Thrashers team, he’s put up tremendous numbers. Kovalchuk has not failed the Thrashers. I understand Kovalchuk’s frustration.

Imagine, just for a sec, that Kovy actually YEARNS to spend his career here in Atlanta. But he’s afraid the ownership will never run the team properly. Imagine how much that must suck for him, personally? “I found where I want to be, but it’s governed by ineptitude.” Ifffff that’s actually Kovalchuk’s thought process, how much angrier did you all just get? In other words, Kovalchuk could play ANYWHERE, but his personal choice is Atlanta, GA. But it’s just that the ownership is too flawed to be capable enough to know how to run a hockey team. That’s infuriating, if true. Infuriating.

Sam

July 20th, 2009
5:24 pm

i think kovy is good enough to get a good amount of money anywhere. the thing that makes him so great is he’s not a quitter. he’s gonna give us one last chance, so we better do somethin good. nice blog shultzy!

Sam

July 20th, 2009
5:35 pm

good comments sara, totally agree. kovy is willing to give us our last chance. we better prove he can stay another year.

zoltar

July 20th, 2009
5:42 pm

***I thought the same thing with Ovechkin in Washington… the team was still pretty horrible when he signed that lifetime contract… it doesn’t seem so stupid now.

I hope Kovalchuk will see Atlanta the same way****

The only problem with this is that the owner in washington actually wants to invest in building a winner. Kovy is no idiot, just like Hossa, who knew this team from top to bottom is run and operated poorly and horribly.

ThrasherNY

July 20th, 2009
6:42 pm

Ever since the Hossa debacle I have been counting down the days to find out who Kovy’s new team will be!

My three factors for why Kovy would assuredly be taking off were; inept owners, inept GM and a lack of youth. At this point in the off season I am crossing lack of youth off the list. We actually have a nice pipeline of talent and I am confident JA can coach a couple of them up. I am also going to cross inept GM off the list. I am sitting here waiting for the announcement but even if they short us on that joy I will consider this off season to be the start of the Dudley era. We just are not making moves under DW’s modis operandi anymore. So that leaves me, and hopefully Kovy, with only one strike left which is our ownership. They are completely FUBAR but if Grossman is waiving a contract for 10 years and $85m – $90m as a sign of their commitment I would have to think about it for an awfully long time before turning it down. There are not many teams in materially better situations than we are that will be ponying up that kind of dough.

In summary I am coming full circle on this one and predicting that Kovy is signed to a blockbuster “Thrasher for Life” deal this off season. I think he wants to be the franchise guy and I do think he will consider his team mates in not wanting to have ambiguity cloud the entire season. If he plans to stay he wont let it drag into the season.

Hookybob

July 20th, 2009
6:43 pm

The Thrashers need to re-sign Kovy (period). They have cap-space. So the question, in my mind, becomes: “Have the Thrashers “moved (significantly) in the right direction” with their other signings?”

If you go back to how strong they finished last season, adding Kubina & Antrovpov, and draft a hard nosed, talented kid,…..is that enough for Ilya? Don’t know. What more could we do while maintaining cap space for resigning? How about picking up a few more Russian players? Ilya seems to be a bit nationalistic,…playing for Russa,…and settling supposed Rusisan player feuds (presumably to keep team Russian 2010 Olympic as good as it can be).

Would signing Zubov, or Zerdov to short contracts be to our best interest. I’m defining “best interest” as in the team’s,not Kovy’s, best interest. How far can you go in the team’s best interest to resign Kovy? Are there any other talented Russian players to be had? Any KHL free agents (if they have such a thing)? Might Nikulan want to come here next year?

Can you build a cup contender with Russian players? Anyone remember the 97 Red Wings? I’ve got think Kovy would be the man to lead such a team.

Hillbilly Deluxe

July 20th, 2009
7:14 pm

If they don’t sign him, the franchise is toast in these parts.

Midfield

July 20th, 2009
7:44 pm

I don’t think Kovy is for all things Russian at all. He did not express any desire to play in Russia and he does not seem to be too crazy to play for Russian coaches, at least for some of them. But one thing is clear enough: there are quite a few Russian, Canadian and even American players out there that are better than Crosby.

JSS

July 20th, 2009
8:28 pm

Still cracking on Hosea? Well you do like beating dead horses… Waddell must have had some saintly parents, he sent Y-O-U an email? I just put a spam filter on your address when you sent me that McCarthy mail that time… New economy, new Kovy, new contract!!!

Brendan

July 20th, 2009
9:07 pm

C’mon. There’s life after Kovalchuk, for hockey, in Atlanta. “Alex, I’ll take “Fandom 101,” for $800. “This is said to cure empty seat blues?” Bzzt. “What are wins?” “Correct.” “Okay, I’ll clear out the category … give me Fandom 101, for $1,000.” “Name a strategy that would work, in a small market, without a Superstar?” Bzzt! “What is rolling 4 lines, with near equal ice time, such that each forward is paid $2-3 million apiece, and each scores around 20 goals, while making the goaltender the highest paid player on the team.” Alex Tribec consults with the staff, “Yes, that is correct.”

ben

July 20th, 2009
10:09 pm

what Brendan said . . .

but i think kovy stays