Ominous signs in Thrashers-Kovalchuk negotiations

Ilya Kovalchuk, seated between his wife, Nicole, and teammate Nik Antropov, seems no closer to signing now than before the season.

Ilya Kovalchuk, seated between his wife, Nicole, and teammate Nik Antropov, seems no closer to signing now than before the season.

A few days before the Thrashers opened this season, general manager Don Waddell expressed great optimism about his chances of signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a contract extension. He punctuated his remarks with, “I don’t think we’ll be talking about this at Christmas time.”

A week before Christmas, Waddell continues to express great optimism. About that Christmas quote?

“I never said what year,” he said.

Funny man.

I’m guessing funny man is funny in public but he’s getting a little nervous out of public view. There was a report this week in a Russian sports newspaper that negotiations between the Thrashers and Kovalchuk now are at an impasse, that he asked for a 10-year contract at the maximum salary allowed by the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement (20 percent of the salary cap, the equivalent of $11.3 million per season) and the team balked.

Now, I know two things about unsourced reports on contract negotiations: 1) You often can’t believe them, especially when they’re in Russian newspapers; 2) Talks can change with one phone call. I’ve also learned that the most honest guy tends to be the player. I once covered a protracted negotiation and quickly discovered that both the general manager and the player’s agent were lying to me about their proposals. Fortunately, the player was telling me the truth.

This is what I know about the Thrashers-Kovalchuk talks. Optimism aside, Waddell is saying the same thing he was saying in September. If anything, he has backed off a little.

Kovalchuk? This is where it gets interesting. When I asked him following Thursday night’s overtime win over Dallas, his initial response was, “Same, I think. You should ask them.” And he went on to talk about how he is “just focusing on my game.” Standard response.

But when asked whether he still believed a deal would get done, neither his tone nor his words were quite as positive as they had been in the past.

“Hopefully,” he said. “But, you know — you never know. It’s all [up to] our owners and management.”

This is how one generally translates that: “I want this amount. Let’s see if they give it to me.”

Kovalchuk and his agent, Jay Grossman, know the Thrashers need the player more than the player needs them. They also know that they can ask for the moon — in this case, the max contract — because they’re staring at unrestricted free agency. They’ve got nothing to lose by shooting high now because they can always settle for less later.

When asked if Kovalchuk would get a max deal, Waddell said: “No, I wouldn’t think so. We have a lot of young guys here. If you want to play with all $500,000 players — some teams [gave out rich] long-term deals and now they’re in trouble because they have no flexibility to do anything.”

His point is that Kovalchuk says he wants to win but he can’t win if he’s taking up so much room on the cap. It’s the proper argument for a general manager. But try convincing an agent of that before free agency.

This can change with one phone call. But bottom line: I don’t feel as good about Kovalchuk re-signing as I did a month ago. Even Waddell acknowledged the time constraints he is now working with. The trade deadline is March 3. But a decision on whether to deal Kovalchuk really has to be made before the Olympic break (Feb. 15-28).

Waddell: “We can’t be talking about this in February. The next month is going to be crucial.”

And they don’t have until Christmas next year.

166 comments Add your comment

lanier

December 18th, 2009
8:41 am

its hockey who cares

Questionable

December 18th, 2009
8:46 am

Glad to see the article – All I want is for Kovy to resign. He is so critical to our team.

But, how can we trust the reliability in your article about our team when you get the score from the game wrong? It was a 6-5 OT win.

The Truth

December 18th, 2009
8:46 am

This particular issue with Kovalchuk may become the handstamp of this NHL franchise and with the ownership group. It is widely known on all of the hockey talk shows on XM that when the Thrashers come into the conversation, they are mentioned as a hockey market ‘unfulfilled, they are always rebuilding.” This has now been going on for over 10 years!!!

Here is the bottom line (and this goes beyond the competency of GM Don Waddell)….the franchise must make a stand of commitment to the fans of Atlanta. Quit dragging your feet and make an impassioned effort to sign Kovy or else move on trading him now for relevant players, not ones who are just cheap makeshift like what we got in the Hossa deal. Have the nads and the passion to show you REALLY CARE about this franchise and the fans. This 8 year season ticket holder is about at his wits end….

bad brad

December 18th, 2009
8:48 am

Who cares? Hockey is something you check out if the basketball team is bad; Hawks are having their best season in years and I would bet most Atlantans couldn’t name 5 Thrashers.

Jeff

December 18th, 2009
8:49 am

If Kovy goes, he might as well take the franchise with him. In a city that barely acknowledges that the Thrashers exist, he is the face of the team. Jeff, you are 100% right in saying that the team needs him more than he needs them. If the Thrashers leave, maybe only 30,000 people will really care (and I have been a season ticket holder since Day 1!). I figured the tema would do well, what with all the carpetbaggers living here from up North, but I was wrong. Hate to say it, but that is the truth of it.

charliedawg

December 18th, 2009
8:49 am

Thrashers 6-5 win last night. You must have left the press box to get some Dip N Dots before going to the locker room.

If there’s one thing I know, sports columnists are usually wrong.

fbranch

December 18th, 2009
8:50 am

Trade him! I’m sick of seeing him charge down over the blue line and lose control of the puck. This team has a core of really good young players, and that core is not building around him.

Clay

December 18th, 2009
8:57 am

It will be bad news if they let him get away. The Thrashers need to stay relevant because there’ll be nothing else to follow in Atlanta after the Falcons season ends until baseball starts.

Sara

December 18th, 2009
8:58 am

Cap shmap – give him whatever he wants and move on. All the extra cap flexability is meaningless with Kovy not here anyway. Besides, the cap’s what, about $56M give or take? Give Kovy $11M, you still have $45M to work with. Considering we iced rosters *with* Kovy’s hefty salary the last two season for that amount, I’m sure they can find a way to make it work now. Kane and Bogosian right now are the only two that could possibly command truly significant salaries and we’re still a ways off from that. Kozlov alone nearly covers Kovy. Take Kari out of the mix with his $3M, we’ll drop White after next season as well. We’ve also got plenty more young, talented, and cheap players in the cue. All I’m saying is, the numbers should crunch out ok even if the cap stays flat for the next 10 years.

BubbaDaStickman

December 18th, 2009
8:59 am

Russian Olympic Judges and Newspapers cannot be trusted. However, the state of the Thrashers and the status of his #1 Mentor on the Team might “Tip the Apple Cart”. I’ve noticed #17 spending time talking with #13 and their mutual language enables this to be done without much being known outside their circle (but for Nik or Max). Slava has the advantage of being towards the end of his career and having played for a very successful organization and acquiring (3) Hoists of Lord Stanley’s Cup…I suspect that Kovy doesn’t care for DW but at this point its too late to change that (should’ve been done years ago), so how far the Thrashers go in the Playoff’s and what #13 offers might just determine whose Sweater Kovy wears next year…If the Thrashers wait too much longer the allure of Hockeytown, DC (Ovi & Kovi), PIT, NY/NJ will far outweigh what he’s leaving behind…

Telfo

December 18th, 2009
8:59 am

I really wish someone outside of Vivlamore(who does a great job!) would write a positive Thrashers article for once. I think they deserve one with their play this season… Schultz is all doom and gloom in all 3 of his hockey articles a year.

EW

December 18th, 2009
9:17 am

Yep, if Kovy leaves it will suck what very little life there is out of the franchise. And he will leave. Any kind of competitor wouldn’t stay somewhere they KNOW they won’t have a shot at a cup.

ChippersLoveChild

December 18th, 2009
9:18 am

Awesome! Here come the “who cares about hockey bumpkins!” Let’s get another article about the Ga defensive coordinator! Back to the sticks hillybillies, because plenty of people in this town care about hockey much more than they do UGA football.

Bugs

December 18th, 2009
9:19 am

Saaaay, this ain’t Wilshire Boulevard. Where’s the La Brea Tar Pits?

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:19 am

Lanier – No first?

Questionable – just caught that a few minutes ago and reposted. Actually took the score out since it didn’t really matter for story.

The Truth – Agreed. The Thrashers have some good young talent now but losing Kovalchuk would be devastating. The team already is struggling for an identity in Atlanta.

ChippersLoveChild

December 18th, 2009
9:20 am

It’s going to be awful if Kovy leaves, he IS this franchise. That being said, I think it is time to start exploring the offers, teams will line up out the door to acquire Kovy for a Cup run, get players that can help us win now… we are currently 5th in the conference, with or without Kovy this needs to be a playoff team this season.

ChippersLoveChild

December 18th, 2009
9:21 am

Jeff, we might be struggling for an identity without Kovalchuk, but I think Bogosian and Kane could carry that torch if they needed to.

JSS

December 18th, 2009
9:22 am

Oh my could it be some Thrashers fans are finally seeing the light? You have a very good beat writer, look there first… Good morning Jeff Schultz… Why is my flight back to Atlanta already delayed? :-(

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 18th, 2009
9:23 am

W/O Kovy earlier in season the team did well. Kovy really can never be the face of the franchise though becuase he doesn’t speak well enough.

Brand idendity to the team through advertising would help.

Remember “Chicks dig the long ball?”

The Thrashers young nucleus should be that focal point.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:24 am

ChippersLoveChild — Bogosian and Kane are great players with great futures. But there’s only one player on that team (Kovalchuk) that most sports fans in Atlanta know (not Thrashers’ fans, general fans). Attendance is predicated on how many of those other people to go to games. That’s identity. Hard core fans are going to games regardless. That’s what I’m talking about.

SimpleDawg

December 18th, 2009
9:25 am

Give Kovy $10M for 10 years…..if he can’t make it on that, then his commitment to the city is just so much ice spray from an abrupt stop……which is what will happen to the franchise if he leaves.

I’d love for hockey to make it in ATL. I’d go to a few games myself, if it weren’t so expensive, but I’m sure there are more than enough of you transplanted Yankees to buy tickets.

Stop telling us how much better y’all did it in Michigan, Illinois, or wherever, and buy tickets to the Thrashers games so we can pay for good players.

That would be a valuable contribution from y’all….finally.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:25 am

Bugs — I’m impressed you know of the Pits. Had many school field trips there as a kid.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:26 am

Telfo — How’s this: “Go Ilya. Sign. Please. We want you.” We good?

ChippersLoveChild

December 18th, 2009
9:26 am

Chef,

We were five hundred without Kovy, I wouldn’t say that is well, more like ok… although, for the Thrashers I suppose .500 is well…. So I suppose Ichiro isn’t the face of the Mariners? Ovechkin the Caps? That argument doesn’t make much sense. Kovy is a top 10 player in the NHL, arguably top 5, you focus on him and then the young talent in marketing.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:27 am

Clay — So I guess you’re not a hoops fan?

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:29 am

Fbranch — Understood. But you’ll need to replace his 40-50 goals and 90 points a season.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:30 am

CharlieDawg — Hah! No. Passed on the Dipping Dots. I was there. … Caught that mistake right after I posted it this morning and took score out. Thanks.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:33 am

JSS — You in L.A.?

Mike

December 18th, 2009
9:36 am

So here is the deal for those that really follow their hockey.

Fact: Hockey is the ultimate team sport. A team cannot win Coupe Stanley without a balanced roster. Gretz, Howe, Orr, Yzerman all had a very strong supporting cast.

Fact: Leadership begins in the dressing room. Cohesive, battle ready winning teams persevere through injuries, suspensions, trades and losses as a team. Leaders emerge from the dressing room and solidify their status on the ice.

Fact: The current economics of the NHL CBA make it quite difficult to give one player, however gifted, 20% of the team’s economics. So if Waddell relents and ponies up, should we expect Ilya to account for 20% of the team’s production?

Fact: No team has won the Cup with a Russian as their leader. Don’t ask me why. Ottawa couldn’t do it with Yashin, Detroit couldn’t do it with Federov and Washington will never win the cup with Ovechkin as their spiritual leader. Mark my words.

What will eventually happen is some Western Conference team will pony up significant future assets for Kovy and he will be gone by March 31st. Unfortunate but true.

Thrasher fans should take heart, though. We have an outstanding nucleus to build from that includes top tier talent and leadership capabilities. Add in some top prosects from the trade and you have a well balanced contending playoff team.

I have seen a number of the games this year. Bottom line – Kovy is not a two-way leader in the mold of Yzerman, Orr or Messier. Done – bid him adieu, wish him well and time the trade right.

HUH???

December 18th, 2009
9:38 am

Atlanta has a hockey team???? I was under the assumption that we do not speak of other sports until AFTER football season. Maybe I am wrong. Must be a slow day for ya Schultzie.

ChippersLoveChild

December 18th, 2009
9:39 am

Mike must be Don Cherry.

Amen

December 18th, 2009
9:39 am

Bad Brad,

I can’t even name ONE!!

JSS

December 18th, 2009
9:40 am

Yep… Told I was here back around Thanksgiving… Got to work some time, that Europe trip was expensive…

Amen

December 18th, 2009
9:41 am

Well, except the guy who this article is about, and even then I had to scroll to the top to find it. Sure as He@# can’t spell it.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:45 am

Huh (others) … Come on folks. Stop bangin’ on hockey. No reason for that.

bugman

December 18th, 2009
9:46 am

There is one problem with the conjecture of Kovy re-signing with ATL:

Don Waddell is in charge of this project. Until the D-Wad is gone, this franchise is doomed to mediocrity (at BEST) and more likely failure.

Let’s check back in three months and see if he hasn’t traded Kovy for some leftover meatloaf and 2 second round draft picks in 2020.

HUH???

December 18th, 2009
9:51 am

Jeff,

Just a bit of playful humor. Not trying to offend. I actually caught myself watching a few minutes of a Thrashers game the other night. Well, I think it was a Thrashers game. The score box in the top left hand corner was out of focus for some reason. Darn non-HD channels.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:51 am

Mike
– Fact 1- That’s true. But those teams also had Gretzky, Howe, Orr and Yzerman. Do they win Cups without those guys?
– Fact 2- I’ll say this, and I’m a little surprised because I knew Ilya as a rookie. He’s developed into a good leader.
– Fact 3- Again true. Doesn’t mean a guy can’t ask for it. I’m just saying if he ends up getting $9.5 million or something, he can get that in the summer. But maybe he takes that ahead of time here. I dunno.
– Fact 4- Really don’t know what to make of the Russian thing. I’m inclined to not make much of it.

But good comments.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
9:53 am

Huh?? No problem.

ChippersLoveChild

December 18th, 2009
9:53 am

Bugman,

That doom and gloom with Waddell has gone out the window. Why don’t you check his recent track record. It’s easy to repeat the same thing over and over when you don’t follow the sport. Educate yourself on Rick Dudley and some of DW’s recent moves, then come back to the blog.

Spud Webb

December 18th, 2009
10:11 am

Shultz, thank you for this article. DW is a liar and we know this is going to end very badly. I do disagree that the franchise will be gone if Kovy leaves. I think that we have a good base of talent and can build on this, ESPECIALLY if we ship Kovy out for some good young talent and picks. It can be done, do I have faith DW can do that??? NO.
Kovy is dragging his feet, Kovy we’ve done what you wanted, it’s time to sign or its time to say IM NOT GOING TO SIGN here. Either way lets get this done so we can focus on making the playoffs.
FIRE DW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
To all the “its hockey who cares”, why did you open this article?? The headline “Ominous signs in Thrashers-Kovalchuk negotiations” should give you a clue as to what you’re going to read. Theres nothing about UGA or how bad they are in this article, so move on please. ahahhaa

lanier

December 18th, 2009
10:19 am

first to blog means 0 to me

bravos

December 18th, 2009
10:26 am

How can this city get excited about hockey when the coverage from this newspaper is horrible. I aam glad you are writing this article Jeff. But on the front page online, there isn’t one article about the game. Instead the headline is about the weather. Look at pittsburgh paper’s website, it has their game on the front page. And then you might expect it to be on the front of the sports page, but the article is about Dooley’s house being torn down and about a game that hasn’t even happened yet – the hawks and the jazz (which should be an awesome game – so get out there and support this team). No wonder there are rumors of this team moving on. No wonder the stars on this team always get shipped out because we can’t support them. This team needs the help of this newspaper to make this deal happen. But it has always been this way. You would have no idea that the thrashers are in the fifth spot in the east if you read this paper. And they wonder why this town is always second and third rate when it comes to sports and its fans. Thanks ajc.

Spud Webb

December 18th, 2009
10:31 am

bravos, if you depend on a newspaper to get you excited or informed about a sport or team, then you have issues!!! NHL.com, the NHL network are excellent ways to follow the thrashers.

JSS

December 18th, 2009
10:38 am

What the heck is that hanging oner the whole Southeast, a wintertime Katrina? Excuse me but what the hack is EVGENI MALKIN? Sid the Kid wears the C, but like his predecessor as a sidekick in Pittsburgh Jagr, it takes more than one…. That is Malkin… Ask Yzerman what it was like in 87 and 88 being taken to the woodshed by the Oilers…

bravos

December 18th, 2009
10:42 am

Spud,
I went to the game. And I do use nhl and espn for the my news, but I am talking about the normal, casual sports fan in this city.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
10:49 am

Look at JSS, bringing some hockey knowledge to the table.

ChippersLoveChild

December 18th, 2009
10:51 am

Spud,

Bravos still makes a good point, the coverage could certainly be better… especially when we actually have a winning product that people should be excited about… once the playoffs come around then they will magically appear on the front page as if they have been there all along, just like the did when we won the SE a few years back… all of a sudden it was “Get to know your Thrashers.” A little late to that party, AJC.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
10:53 am

Bravos — I think you probably know I’m a hockey guy, so I know how you feel. I’d like to see it have a greater presence and I’d certainly like to see us travel. Said it before: Hockey fans don’t have it in numbers compared to fans of other sports in Atlanta, but I know the passion is equaled by only college football. Unfortunately, if numbers aren’t there, the paper is forced to make budget decisions based on readership interest. As a hockey fan, I don’t like it either. But that’s just the way it is. I’m sure Don Waddell would tell you that hockey got better play in team’s first few seasons when they drew well, even though team wasn’t very good. Also got good play in the playoff season. But attendance illustrated interest, and interest led to coverage. I realize this is a chicken-egg argument, but that’s reality of situation.

Jeff Schultz

December 18th, 2009
10:53 am

Lanier — gotcha.