With the franchise looking for any opportunity to get on the Atlanta sports landscape, the Thrashers would love to be able to announce before Saturday’s season opener that they have signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a new contract, preferably at a season-ticket holder function Thursday night. But one of the guys negotiating the deal said he doesn’t expect that to happen.
Immediately following a news conference Wednesday, during which he basically expressed optimism that a new deal would be reached soon, Thrashers general manager Don Waddell acknowledged: “I don’t think it’s going to get done before opening night. We’re going to talk again in the next 24 hours, but I don’t see it getting done.”
No pressure. It might be only the future of hockey in Atlanta that weighs in the balance.
This morning, I weighed in on the Hawks’ Joe Johnson’s decision to play out the final year of his contract and test free agency. Honestly, I find that no big deal. That’s not the case with Kovalchuk. Johnson still has to prove he’s an elite player in his league. Kovalchuk is already there in his.
The Hawks are not going to move or fold without Johnson. The Thrashers without Kovalchuk? Who knows? People buy tickets for two reasons: 1) To watch a winner; 2) To watch stars. You’re aware of the Thrashers’ history. Nobody is going to assume they’re a winner until it happens. And if you don’t win, you can’t attract stars, or fans.
For the record, Waddell remains “very confident” a deal will get done.
“I don’t think we’ll be talking about this at Christmas time,” he said.
Where are talks on a scale of 1 to 10?
“Eight,” he said.
Sometimes, those last two will kill you.
The good news is, negotiations between Waddell and agent Jay Grossman have been free of public verbal hand grenades. Waddell has upgraded the roster this off-season, ostensibly to try to convince Kovalchuk to re-sign. But even with upgrades, nobody is going to confuse Atlanta with an NHL power. And let’s face it: Kovalchuk has all the power. He can have his pick of teams. He doesn’t have to stay here.
Kovalchuk didn’t seem concerned about the talks.
“We have a lot of time. I have a year left,” he said.
He can afford to say that. The franchise can’t afford to be so nonchalant.