Ilya Kovalchuk is about to become an ex-Thrasher.
Kovlachuk, the third “franchise” player the team has had, learned Wednesday he will follow in the steps of Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa. He was told by general manager Don Waddell after practice that he will be traded to a team that has yet to be determined. Kovalchuk then phoned agent Jay Grossman, who later was told the same thing by Waddell.
“It certainly appears to be the direction the club is moving in,” Grossman said by phone. “Ilya’s disappointed. But we appreciate the fact there they’ve been honest about what their plans are.”
The Thrashers’ next game is Friday night in Washington. It seems highly unlikely the team would want Kovalchuk to play in that game, knowing they are about to deal him. But as of early Wednesday evening, a trade had not yet been worked out and there has been a feeling around the league that Waddell has overplayed his hand in trade talks and has been asking for more compensation than teams are willing to part with.
The only teams likely to pursue Kovalchuk are playoff contenders but most have balked at taking a major player off their roster. Teams most often mentioned have been Los Angeles, Boston, New York, New Jersey, Calgary and Philadelphia.
Kovalchuk has been seeking the maximum allowed salary under the collective bargaining agreement, which is 20 percent of the salary cap, or roughly $11.3 million per season. Grossman confirmed that he has not come off that number and was asking for a “lifetime” contract in the 10-to-12-year range.
The Thrashers have offered multiple deals, none close to that range. Waddell has offered close to max money, $10 million a year, but only in shorter-term contracts (three, five or seven years). The Thrashers’ last offer on the table was for $101 million. But that spanned 12 seasons for an annual average of $8.42 million.
While some might consider Kovalchuk’s demands excessive, even Waddell has conceded there is no contract “comparable,” because no other player of his status ever has been on the verge of testing unrestricted free agency. The closest comparables are Columbus forward Rick Nash ($8 million per year for eight years), Carolina’s Eric Staal, ($8 .25 million for seven years) and Tampa Bay’s Vinny Lecavalier ($9.71 million for eight years). In each of those cases, the player signed his contract extension the year before potential unrestricted free agency. The highest deal belongs to Lecavalier, who is three years older than Kovalchuk (26).