Heard this before? Thrashers scrambling and star unsigned

Is it one leg over the boards or one foot out the door for Ilya Kovalchuk? (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Is it one leg over the boards or one foot out the door for Ilya Kovalchuk? (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Here we are again. The night starts with the team ranked 25th of 30 in the standings, the stands are half-empty and the talk leading to another trade deadline is not about the potential inbox but the likely outbox.

This is not what the NHL banked on (pun absolutely intended) when it brought Atlanta back into the league. It is not what former owner Ted Turner intended when he spent $80 million for an expansion franchise that in 2009 was ranked 29th in total value ($143 million), ahead of only the Phoenix Coyotes, who were in bankruptcy. It’s certainly not what the shrinking base of hockey fans in Atlanta deserves.

But here we are. Again.

“I expected us to compete for a playoff spot,” Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said, “and that’s what we’re doing.”

Well, yes. Welcome to the NHL, where teams have to lose a game and practically spread an incurable disease not to get a point in the standings. But the Thrashers are not quite blowing anybody away these days, possibly the final ones with Ilya Kovalchuk on their roster. They won their game against Anaheim 2-1 on Tuesday night at Philips Arena. Their record is now 23-21-8 (23-29 in the real world). The 54 points places them in a three-way tie for ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the New York Rangers. In short: Eight teams separated by three points are competing for three playoff spots in the East.

Feeling lucky?

Even after Tuesday, the Thrashers still have only five wins in the past 19 games (with a recent nine-game winless skid).

Confident?

Waddell called this “no doubt the most talented team we’ve ever had.” That might be true, but the masses have been turned off. Attendance is so low (13,140 average, 28th in the league) that Waddell acknowledged that the Thrashers will be among only a few teams penalized in the NHL’s revenue-sharing program: 10 to 25 percent. Last year’s normal share was $17 million. The loss would be $1.7 million to $4.25 million for a franchise already counting pennies.

He also acknowledged that Philips has sought to get out of its naming-rights deal at the arena and sell it to a third party. He dismissed any notion that ownership would accept a reduction in the deal with Philips.

None of this projects well for re-signing Kovalchuk. He wants progress. He wants a guarantee of  franchise stability. He wants the max contract. He would settle for two out of three — but since progress and stability can’t be guaranteed, and this ownership doesn’t give him a warm-and-fuzzy feeling, he is asking for the only thing he can control: max salary over the long term (think $11.3 times 12). If he doesn’t get it here, he’ll either get it on the open market or get close enough to it with a team he knows is committed to winning (and not moving). Also a team not getting penalized in revenue sharing and trying to compete a mile below the salary cap.

Kovalchuk informed the Thrashers in October he was ready to do a deal. Nearly two months passed before the two sides had significant negotiations. What exactly ownership was doing during that time lapse can’t be certain. Was it to gauge Kovalchuk’s value on the open market? His value to them? What had they been doing for the past year? The past two years? Didn’t everybody know this day was coming?

Or was this just a stall tactic to find a buyer for the team? We’ll never know.

The trade deadline is March 3. But really, it’s not even that far off. There’s a two-week roster freeze Feb. 14-28 during the Olympic break. So Waddell really has only eight more games to assess things before the Olympics. After the Games, he would have to move quickly on a trade if he didn’t think Kovalchuk could be signed. Technically, there is a third option: Do nothing. The latter allows the Thrashers to let the season play out, buying them time to deal him before he officially becomes a free agent July 1.  But Waddell has always been a “sign-him or trade-him” guy with his impending free agents. The risk: If nobody bites on a deal after the season and before July 1, he gets nothing.

The real problem is that this is even an issue. It’s 10 seasons and 11 years into the process, and here we are looking at a team scrambling for its playoff life and on the verge of losing another star. It’s all too familiar.

157 comments Add your comment

Southern Football

January 26th, 2010
9:24 pm

Sage of Bluesland

January 26th, 2010
9:33 pm

Well, finally an AJC employee with a pulse on reality in Thrashersland! (next to Rawhide, that is)

One thing that’s all-too familiar is the sight of our blustering, lisping little fraud of a GM, still employed and laughing all the way to the bank.

Too bad the sheep continued to subsidize the utter incompetence. Too late now.

How sad.

Angus

January 26th, 2010
9:35 pm

So, they are not good now and no one goes.
If they re-sign their best player, they’re still south of good and no one goes.
If they don’t resign him, they still suck and no one goes.

Does it really matter if he stays or goes?

Atlanta Fanatic

January 26th, 2010
9:35 pm

12th Place Playoff Spot

January 26th, 2010
9:40 pm

If you don’t like hockey, Jeff, don’t write an article about it. “Their record is now 23-21-8 (23-29 in the real world)” We have our Thrashers bloggers for the AJC and they don’t try to knock our favorite sport in their pieces. Show some professionalism.

Gwinnett Fred

January 26th, 2010
9:43 pm

1- Kovy’s salary demands won be going down (why should they? others will pay it)
2- Ownership won’t be clearing matters up any time soon
3- If the team being competitive really had anything to do with it – the contract would have gotten done when they were at 14-7-3 and in the top half of the Eastern standings.

TRADE HIM – the earlier the better, the more you can get. With this teams luck, he’ll break something in the Olympics and won’t be tradeable at that point.

Excuse Me?

January 26th, 2010
9:43 pm

I think I am in the wrong article, what is this hockey you speak of? And this player with a name I can not pronounce, can he play quarterback for the Dawgs next year?

Former Fan

January 26th, 2010
9:45 pm

The cancer here goes back to a disfuctional ownership group that cannot muster the will or ability to relieve Donnie W of his duties (which should have happened years ago – but then you actually have to pay for someone skilled, as if they’d come here to work for this crew) nor the willingness/desire/ability to pay for talent to build a team. The only folks getting screwed here are the fans when the team blows town once sold. It is not the fans fault the management of the team is beyond horrible, and that Waddell has not done the job. The fansa re voting with their dollars, and nobody looks to care. Another superstar leaves town in a poorly handled, dare I say totally bungled, manner. Classic. The Atlanta Spirit clown posse and clownmaster Donnie W are to be thanked here.

Keepin' it real

January 26th, 2010
9:49 pm

Mr. 12th Place Playoff Spot, respectfully, the Thrashers suck becasue they do. The game they lost to Carolina last week showed me a team that was not even mailing it in. I have followed the NHL for 40 years and that display was awful, really awful. Players, coaches and/or management to blame? Who knows. The Thrashers are not playing poorly because Jeff Schultz writes about them, however.

Dip

January 26th, 2010
9:53 pm

Get rid of big Don the Wad.

Jeff I enjoy seeing you “Just Shot Me” reruns was David Spade funny in person?

Dip

January 26th, 2010
9:53 pm

meant Just Shoot me

Gwinnett Fred

January 26th, 2010
9:56 pm

Forget the Carolina “no show” game – I was REALLY impressed by that 8-1 beat down against the Caps before a pretty much full house a couple weeks ago!

Gwinnett Fred

January 26th, 2010
9:58 pm

Where’s Johnny Reb, the Painted Lady & Boom-Boom when you need them??

Former Thrash Fan

January 26th, 2010
10:00 pm

I’m a native southerner, had never really been a hockey fan until the Thrashers came to town. But I got into it, learned the game, and became a great fan, was even a season ticket holder one year. But all we have to show for it is one lousy playoff appearance in which the Rangers sodomized us for four games. At this point I don’t really care anymore. For a decade they haven’t gotten their act together, so they’ll get no more of my money.

Except when I go to Hawks games (until the ownership deep sixes them too).

Bravesfan-1995isover

January 26th, 2010
10:01 pm

Jeff,

You’re right this story has played out before. But the fan base needs a consistent face year-in and year-out, instead of being alienated every few years with a star departing. You don’t get a top-5 player in the NHL land in your lap every year. He’s a once a decade or so type of player.

Yes this team has had some unfortunate breaks the last month, but they are playing solid hockey. You failed to mention Kari Lehtonen could be returning in a couple of weeks and could provide a spark to Ondrej Pavelec’s struggles lately.

Yes, we need more media types pressuring the ownership to fire Waddell, but bringing negativity while the team is trying to come up does not help. Attendance is low, but you know what? When they were in the playoffs, the Phil was sold out.

Winning solves all problems. The Thrashers are young and talented, and learning how to win. They need Kovy’s stardom to take the pressure off of the youngsters who are learning to play (and win) in the NHL.

KovalchukATL

January 26th, 2010
10:02 pm

Part of the problem is the media. Why does it always have to be doom and gloom? We just stopped a hot team tonight and played well and here comes Mr. Buzzsaw Buzzkill with this heaping load of negative toxic waste. How about our hometown paper supporting our hometown team! Way to go! I hate all the negative crap… how about something positive! I’m so #$)_$(# sick of seeing every article about the Thrashers being so negative. Inject something good when good things happen like tonight’s when. This crap makes me sick. Mr. Schultz, your pants are on the ground as well as any and all the respect you have among Thrashers fans. You are part of the problem, not the solution…

David

January 26th, 2010
10:02 pm

MOVE THEM OUT! Obviously nobody cares.

Calling Arthur Blank

January 26th, 2010
10:03 pm

Ownership is a complete joke. How Waddell still has a job (and I believe he has even been promoted) is a travesty. And the story that will be written is its the “market’s” fault. 11 years of pisspoor to mediocrity at best, and you wonder where all the goodwill went. For the love of Pete, please, somebody step up and relieve Rutherford Seydel, Bruce Levensen, Michael Gearon Jr., Ed Peskowitz, Todd Foreman, Bud Seretean and Steve Belkin (and with all of them, add Don Waddell)of their duties as ownership of this team. Someone that brings not only the financial wherewithall, but a commitment to winning, and a commitment to Atlanta. (Note- not sure if any of the collection of the aforementioned clowns possess even one of the three.) Arthur Blank perhaps?

Winnipeg

January 26th, 2010
10:04 pm

You hosers can just sent the Thrashers on up, hey? Bettman was an idiot for putting teams in Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville and Miami to begin with.

Gwinnett Fred

January 26th, 2010
10:06 pm

Too bad Ted doesn’t own them any longer. Even if he didn’t pump millions into them, maybe he would do what he did back in the 70’s with the Braves and give fans a free ticket when the team didn’t bother to show up (then, at least, I’d have SOMETHING to show for going to the 8-1 loss to Washington & 5-2 against the last place ‘Canes).

bob dylan's voice coach

January 26th, 2010
10:07 pm

pay the man his money, fire D-Wad

KovalchukATL

January 26th, 2010
10:08 pm

I do however agree about the ownership… join this FB Page to show your support for getting rid of ATL Spirit… however with the Hawks doing so well right now that might be tough… but they should keep the Hawks and find separate ownership for the Thrashers

http://www.facebook.com/#/pages/Change-of-Atlanta-Thrashers-Ownership-to-Arthur-Blank-or-Another-Good-Owner/283866461808

Rogie

January 26th, 2010
10:08 pm

It’s kind of sad to think that this is potentially the most talented roster that the Thrashers have ever had. 10 years later, with the exception of our high first round draft picks, the Thrashers have developed few solid players that have drafted in their system. This “talented” team is one or two major injuries from falling apart and being a non-factor this year. There is no talent waiting in the wings (or has their ever been) that can step up and be competitive at the NHL level. In my mind, that’s the real barometer of this franchise. It’s a house of cards.

RALPH

January 26th, 2010
10:09 pm

Listen people it is not hard to figure out. The THASHERS are a terrible product. I mean they are boring as hell to watch and I think people have finally realized that. I mean they has no sense of urgency. None of the guy except Boulton and Thornburn hit anybody. The game used to be great but the NHL has put a bunch of figure skaters out there on the ice and it is boring. Get a team that plays hard, hits, checks, is scrappy, and fights some and attendence will go up. I would rather take a dump than watch the THRASHERS.

KovalchukATL

January 26th, 2010
10:12 pm

If you hate the Thrashers so much why do you waste your time coming here making comments? why do you even care?

Gwinnett Fred

January 26th, 2010
10:12 pm

Trade Kovy to the Rangers for Brashear – then at least we’d win some fights!

MB

January 26th, 2010
10:15 pm

Hadn’t watched the Thrash in awhile until going to tonight’s game. The team played pretty solid, especially Moose and Peverley, with one very notable exception…Kovalchuk looked like he couldn’t care less out there tonight. For weeks I’ve been dismissing comments about his lackluster play because I hadn’t seen it myself, but tonight I saw it clear as day. The guy completely mailed it in…hard to admit when he’s my favorite player. And after the obligatory tap on Moose’s pads at game’s end, he hustled off the ice as quickly as he could. Very disappointing. I guess I can say I saw him at one of his last home games as a Thrasher. Whoopee. Thanks Don and ASG.

Smarty

January 26th, 2010
10:16 pm

Kovy is gone and so are the Thrashers. Say Hello Toronto! I will miss Hockey though in Atlanta because when you are at a hockey game at Philips Arena you really do not think you are in a town like Atlanta. Looks a midwest city of the patrons.

ryan

January 26th, 2010
10:17 pm

Yea I agree same deal with the Braves and Liberty media i mean the braves can never compete and spend money like other teams can because of the crapy ownership we have .And i for one are sick of it

Gwinnett Fred

January 26th, 2010
10:21 pm

But according to the free programs they give out – at least the teams play in an arena that some 2-bit organization voted the best something or another.

RALPH

January 26th, 2010
10:24 pm

To KovalchuckATL – You idiot. I did not say that I did not like the THRASHERS. I said they were so boring to watch. Skate and Dump it in and then chase it. HIt NOBODY. Why don’t you check out some NHL games from the 80s to see what real hockey is not this imported crap that the league has become. Wonder why ratings are down across the league while the NFL and NBA enjoy record attendence? You are and idiot. Keep it up and I will come down there and drop the gloves with you and whip you real good.

BG33Brown

January 26th, 2010
10:25 pm

Jeff, how can you write this without point out that Kovy wants 20% of the total money available to spend. HE DOESN’T DESERVE THAT MUCH. No one does. He is a one dimensional player.

If this franchise gets its act together (re: mgmt and ownership) we will be better off without him.

tarps3

January 26th, 2010
10:25 pm

last time I checked fights do not dictate who wins or looses games. Why am i wasting hot air on this type website anyways?

Matt the Brave

January 26th, 2010
10:26 pm

And now, starting for your Kansas City Thrashers….

So, it looks like we’re about to lose another hockey franchise. When will the NHL realize if they really wanted to have a team in Atlanta, they needed to put it where the yankees are: Roswell, East Cobb, or Gwinnett County! Duh!

Dags Fingerhut

January 26th, 2010
10:26 pm

Spot on.

The phrase is overused today, but it is what it is folks.

The Thrashers are a bad team, with an even worse GM, and still even worse ownership.

There is zero chance that Kovalchuk will stay. There never really was. Not with this team, this GM, and this ownership.

It’s the first time I’ve heard that Philips wasts out of the naming deal. Not that it’s surprising, but it’s another nail in the hockey coffin here. Completely sad, but true.

Somewhere Boom Boom is spinning in his grave.

Bruce

January 26th, 2010
10:26 pm

My prediction is that Kovy will be traded for “prospects’ that will never make it to the 2nd line. All fan support will be lost if he is not resigned. We might as well kiss the Thrashers goodbye because they will be headed north to Canada. Why can’t we keep the talent we draft?

Robby

January 26th, 2010
10:30 pm

Can we trade Waddell? He has run this franchise into the ground and NO ONE holds him accountable!!

If they trade Kolvy, then the Thrashers won’t be in Atlanta more then another 4-5 years.

Saint Arthur???

January 26th, 2010
10:46 pm

Calling Arthur Blank-Way to just google the names of Atlanta Spirit owners…Bud Seretean died two and a half years ago, good work. And this Arthur Blank figure you speak of, is this the Arthur Blank who just had to sell off 10% of his ownership portion to new minority investors, or is this the Arthur Blank who didn’t have enough money to go through with the application process for an MLS franchise? The two of them just look so alike, I can’t tell them apart.

Chris

January 26th, 2010
10:48 pm

This is probably a lose-lose situation. What will re-signing him guarantee? With him they’ve made the playoffs once and have some of the lowest attendance in the league, and for that kind of money they’ll have problems putting a decent cast around him. They won’t win and attendance will continue to drop. If they let him go somehow, they have to rebuild and attendance will continue to drop. Either way this team will likely be gone within 5 years.

Sugarfoot

January 26th, 2010
10:49 pm

I am afraid real hockey left Atlanta with the Knights. If they do not sign Kovy, then Atlanta can kiss another hockey team goodbye, and we probably will never have one again. (Oh, yeh. I forgot about the Gwinnett Gladiators.

Not Blind

January 26th, 2010
10:51 pm

Minus 80-something over a career isn’t worth what he’s asking.

Smitty

January 26th, 2010
10:59 pm

Jeff, Your analysis of this sad situation is correct IMO. I only wish the AJC would have pressed Thrasher ownership and management as to why Kovy had not been signed by this past Christmas. Waddell said this matter would not be in question by Christmas and yet here we are.

Kovy mailed it in long ago and nobody in the media has pressed this issue.

uga-brave

January 26th, 2010
11:03 pm

it starts and ends with ownership. gotta spend money to win. ownerhip has really let this franchise down.

KovalchukATL

January 26th, 2010
11:10 pm

Ooo Raply big tought guy come on down liver lips!

Chris

January 26th, 2010
11:14 pm

Personally, I think that re-signing Kovalchuk is the worst option of the three. As we’ve seen based on attendance figures, winning is the only way to get people to show up, not having a big name. If you trade him you can pick up some high draft picks (which has worked in Buffalo when they traded away Campbell) and rebuild for real instead of working with some cast-offs. There’s no way a team will pay him $11 million, more than Ovechkin makes, but he could go to the KHL where he can make that money although that is unlikely. They could get him cheaper if they wait.

Both of those options would be risky, but tying up 20% of cap space with one player is riskier. There is little hope for the franchise regardless, but the latter two offer slightly more.

There is little hope for this franchise with any of these option

Chris

January 26th, 2010
11:16 pm

The last line should read: there is little hope for the franchise regardless, but the latter two options offer slightly more hope. Don’t know what happened there.

B. Thenet

January 26th, 2010
11:16 pm

The only mistake the owners have made was keeping Don Waddell around.

The Thrashers do not have a single forward on their roster that they drafted after the 1st round… I mean how hard is it to find a 3rd or 4th liner in the draft. We cannot even draft goons properly. It is mind boggling how poorly the Thrashers have drafted….

You CAN win in the NHL on a budget, those Nashville Predators have done a phenomenal job. Of course they have one of the best GMs in the NHL running the team.

ex-STH

January 26th, 2010
11:16 pm

MB, I was there tonight and watched Koval-Puke the whole night. HE WAS A WASTE OF SPACE!!!! As I said yesterday, please sit Kovalchuk and play Kozlov! I know Kozzy is having a hard time right now but at least he PLAYS! Kovalchuk was so disgustingly WORTHLESS on the ice tonight. I’m willing to trade both Kovy and D-WADS for a bag of pucks!!!!
Every minute DW waits, Kovy’s value is dropping. TRADE HIM NOW!!!!

steve

January 26th, 2010
11:18 pm

It’s all too familiar because Don Waddell is still in charge. You forgot to mention Ilya Kovalchuk’s request for a decent center on his line. Just another detail ignored by an incompetent GM and failing owners.

If Waddell won’t leave the bridge, let the ship sink.

miffed at spiritgroup

January 26th, 2010
11:37 pm