Thrashers’ Waddell aims to sway an audience of one

It’s an odd task. Don Waddell is making moves with the goal of improving his hockey club, which ordinarily would be a general manager’s highest priority. But this GM has something more in mind:

He’s trying to impress Ilya Kovalchuk.

The best player in Thrashers history is scheduled to become a free agent next summer. He has given indications he’d like to stay here, but his desire is conditional: The Thrashers must first get better. “I know for sure we need some more players,” Kovalchuk told reporters after the final game of last season, and that’s where Waddell comes in.

Known as the Teflon Don in some circles for his ability to avoid blame — and to stick like Krazy Glue to his GM’s chair — Waddell has had an impressive fortnight. The Thrashers appeared to do well in the NHL draft, picking a power forward in Round 1 who might soon be with the big club. (Waddell to Evander Kane on draft night: “You’re going to look good next to Ilya Kovalchuk.”)

And then, scarcely having returned from Montreal, Waddell authored two more big moves: A trade with Toronto that yielded defenseman Pavel Kubina, and the free-agent signing of right wing Nik Antropov, who has two things going for him: He’s a good player who’s an F.O.I. (friend of Ilya’s).

“They go hand in hand,” Waddell said Monday. “We’re trying to improve our team, and by doing that we’re trying to convince our best player to stay. This is a guy who has been part of two world championships with Russia. He wants to be part of a winning organization.”

About Kubina and Antropov: “We got a top-six forward and a top-four defenseman. Those are the two biggest acquisitions at this time of the year we’ve ever made.”

Are the Thrashers, as newly constituted, a playoff-caliber team? “Absolutely,” Waddell said. “We’ve got to make sure guys are healthy, but we’ve got enough depth at forward and defenseman. Goaltender is a key position in hockey, and we haven’t been able to keep our No. 1 guy [Kari Lehtonen] healthy early in seasons. It’s tough when you lose games early.”

Ultimately, Ilya Kovalchuk will:

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Approaching the draft, there was much speculation that the Thrashers were looking to offload Lehtonen. No so, Waddell said. “We got some phone calls, but we never initiated anything. He’s a key piece.”

Also of note: The Thrashers, who wound up spending the least of any NHL club on salary last season, just invested $16 million over four seasons in Antropov. Should that be seen as a signal that the Atlanta Spirit is willing to spend more to win at hockey?

Waddell: “It’s a positive sign for our team and our fans. Ownership has been very supportive. If you don’t have the resources, [improvement is] not going to happen.”

And now the key question: What does Kovalchuk think?

“I’ve had very good conversations with Kovy, and I talk more with his agent, Jay Grossman,” Waddell said. “And the best thing about this is that the core of our team is all young players. When we won our division [in 2007], we were a much older team. We took some lumps, but we’ve gotten younger.”

Is there a timetable for discussions about Kovalchuk’s extension to begin in earnest? “I’d say over the next six weeks,” Waddell said.

And take this for what’s it worth. On the day Waddell signed Antropov, the GM received a two-word text message from No. 17. The two words: “Good job.”

81 comments Add your comment

tale of woe

July 6th, 2009
3:15 pm

Seeing that you posted this a half an hour ago I thought I would at least respond and say Hi…Doesn’t seem like many people care.

Buzilla in CT

July 6th, 2009
3:25 pm

I like the signings. We improved the team on both ends of the ice. I am looking forward to next season…Their…people care now..

Jeremy H

July 6th, 2009
3:31 pm

I appreciate the positive article Mark. As a long time Thrasher fan, it was nice to read.

I too am optimistic for the upcoming season. While I do realize that has been the mantra for years now, I truly believe – as I look at the roster – we finally have pieces in place to be a very competitive team.

BugKiller

July 6th, 2009
4:03 pm

Okay, Mark, you make a good point in that Waddell HAS actually done something to improve the team.

On the FIRST line.

What separates a good GM (Ray Shero) from a crap GM (Waddell) is the ability to not only pick the “No Duh” picks in the draft, but to find the diamonds that become key Second Line guys or Power Play Killers.

What separates a good GM (Ken Holland) from a crap GM (ahem, Waddell) is the ability to sift through the vagaries of free agency and find DEPTH for your team, so not only does your First Line match up with everyone else’s first line, but that your Second and Third Lines match up as well.

What separates the Hollands and the Sheros form the Waddells is the ability to do those two things, and do it CONSISTENTLY.

And don’t give me that Waddell is hamstrung by ownership. Yeah, he is. But other teams who spend little (Nashville, Minnesota, PITTSBURGH) seem to find a way.

Wonder why Atlanta never seems to be able to?

There are three absolutes that need to happen in Atlanta (and surrounding area) sports for these three teams to get out of the middle of the crowd, the bottom of the pile, or the malaise of 10 win seasons:

FIRE BOBBY COX

FIRE DON WADDELL

FIRE WILLIE MARTINEZ

It’s really not so hard.

Bogotown

July 6th, 2009
4:09 pm

Per Andy Strickland…Contract Negotiations with Kovy have started!

Chris

July 6th, 2009
4:12 pm

I just read that myself Bogotown. Hopefully they go a little bit smoother than Nash’s negotiations with Columbus, but take roughly just as long (about a week) to get done.

The day The Czar signs his extension should be a local holiday.

ThrashersGirl

July 6th, 2009
4:15 pm

A really nice read! I am glad to read something positive regarding the Thrashers.

Very refreshing to see that the Atlanta Spirit is willing to spend money. I mean, No Ilya…well, no team really. Ilya + Winning = $$$ I think that the Atlanta Spirit might finally realize that.

Mark Bradley

July 6th, 2009
4:16 pm

I’ll admit it: Don Waddell has done more faster than I expected him to do. Give the guy credit for that, if nothing else. And I don’t think he’s going to let this Kovalchuk thing become a Hossa saga, if he can possibly avoid it.

Sara

July 6th, 2009
4:26 pm

Well hopefully Strickland is right because as far as I’m concerned, if Waddell and Kovy are working on an extension, this is a done deal and Captain Kovy is staying. It’s never been about the numbers for Kovy – it’s the roster. So if Kovy is at the point where he’s authorized his agent to start talking numbers…Waddell’s sales job is complete! :)

Brendan

July 6th, 2009
4:45 pm

I don’t advocate trading Kovalchuk, but as a LAST RESORT, at the trade deadline, in 2010. It’s in everyone’s best interest for Kovalchuk to be re-signed before training camp. If that happens, it’s a huge problem avoided. And Don Waddell’s offseason grade will be a well-earned “A.” Kubina is an upgrade. But he’s got a year left on his contract. Kubina could wind up being the Thrasher traded at the 2010 deadline. Antropov is a decent acquisition, at 4-year/$16 million. But more importantly, as Bradley notes, Kovalchuk liked the move. And, at this point, it’s about pleasing him. If Kovy’s happy … he’ll re-sign. If he’s still got concerns, then he probably won’t. Kovy’s only leverage is his contract. And he can use that leverage all the way until June 30, 2010. And technically, beyond that, if he wishes to re-sign with Atlanta as a UFA. If the Thrashers are finally the team Kovalchuk wants, on July 3, 2010, he just might stun the world and re-sign then. Again, Kovy’s contract is his only measure of leverage to make this team better. He’s trying to improve things. He’s not trying to be “difficult.” It’s a shame … that this is what it’s come to. Prodding ownership to do what almost any other NHL organization would do instinctively. But the Atlanta Spirit, LLC are slow learners, I guess. I hope they get it done. If Kovy says, “these two guys, by next Fall, and I sign,” then at least, it’s spelled out, specifically, what they have to do. It’s up to them to go do it.

But it’s a good sign that Kovalchuk seems “pleased.” Imagine if Kovy’s text had read, “Trade me, now!”

Matt

July 6th, 2009
5:01 pm

Trade Kovy = Death of NHL in Atlanta.

I’ve said it before, I don’t think Waddell has done a good, consistent job as GM. That being said, I’ll continue to support the Thrashers, cause if they leave, NHL hockey is never coming back.

I am cautiously optimistic given the end of the season play of the team, their draft and pickups of Kubina and Antropov.

Looking forward to seeing Kane, Esposito and some of the younger players.

Mark Bradley

July 6th, 2009
5:06 pm

Yes, I’d agree that “Good job” is a tad more heartening than “Lose my number, Don.”

Darkhorse

July 6th, 2009
5:40 pm

So far I am relatively happy with the moves of the past few weeks. We spent a little, traded a little, and drafted very well(apparently). Outside of Kovy’s contract extension talks, I hope DW doesn’t become satisfied with what he’s done so far.

I think Waddell was a little suprised things fell together after only two days of FA. He(in his words) got a top 4 dman and a top 6 forward without having to give up a goalie or major prospects. The roster looks pretty good going into camp, but you can do better at #1 center for example.

There may not be another major deal that makes sense for us, but DW’s having a good run over the past month and I hope he stays aggressive in trying to make this team into not only a playoff contender, but a real contender to do something special in the playoffs.

Adam Dunn

July 6th, 2009
5:48 pm

here you go as i stated on the other blog.. here is the link.. kovy big time deal on the way… 1st news broke thanks to me. i should get paid. oh and also kovalev to toronto so there goes that rumor,, good article though mark b, enjoy reading what you write
http://www.hockeybuzz.com/boards/thread.php?thread_id=66523&forum_id=74

Adam Dunn

July 6th, 2009
5:49 pm

i mean to say kovalev to ottawa, my bad

ben

July 6th, 2009
5:51 pm

hopefully . . .

KOME BAKK KOVY!

Slade Wilson

July 6th, 2009
6:00 pm

Mark,

Do you know ANYTHING about professional hockey? ANYTHING at all??

I know your recent articles have not been indicative of that, but I thought you would like the ability to show at least SOME valid insight into the sport outside of what your employer obligates you to write for the masses?

Barry

July 6th, 2009
6:00 pm

I’m pretty sure he will re-sign with us. Ownership and Waddell have admitted mistakes of trading off prospects like Coburn and all to get us into the playoffs that one year. It seems now with the hiring of Coach Anderson (who has totally turned this team around 180 degrees) and rebuilding with very young talent with the likes of Armstrong, Peverley, Little, Bogosian, Enstrom and adding key guys like Reasoner, Antropov, and Kubina to the roster is showing me Spirit and Waddell are starting to figure it out, do it right, and show they are serious about improving this franchise greatly.

Tincup9

July 6th, 2009
6:18 pm

Negotiations, that’s funny. Kovy? Yes Don. What do you want…? Kovy is going to get his money. It is just a matter of where. Sara is 100% correct – it is about the roster and the direction of the club. All the ASG need do is sign the contract when/if Don brings it to them.

Stat Man

July 6th, 2009
6:19 pm

Interested to see what they do with their excess at goal tender. If a trade there could produce another top 6 forward, then we’d really be geared up to make a serious (a) run at the playoffs and (b) run at keeping Kovy.

If nothing else, they have given the fans more reason to be a little optimistic than they EVER have.

Now if they’d just do something about those unreal ticket prices. Second level seats with the oblicatory parking & food for a family of 4 is around $350, and that’s just not going to cut it in this economy. I know about the $10 tickets, but I’d rather come to 5 games a year and sit in “good” seats than 25 games a year up there where you can’t even see the puck.

Baldheaded Thrasher

July 6th, 2009
6:33 pm

Kovy will sign…Look to the future. LAC, Standec, etc.(Other Blogs) Quit harping on the past. DW has made mistakes but the young roster looks pretty good. I’m glad I have my season tickets and it might not be this year for a serious run but maybe 2 years from now.

Jameson

July 6th, 2009
7:11 pm

BugKiller- I’d hardly call Shero hamstrung in Pittsburgh, seeing as how their payroll is currently sitting just below $52 million. If my math and the salary cap information on HockeyBuzz is correct, they are one of 5 teams that are going to have to make some moves if they intend to carry 22 players on their roster, and make the cap.

I predict that baring any major injuries this year, the Thrashers will see some playoff action this year.

Sage of Bluesland

July 6th, 2009
7:51 pm

Are the Thrashers, as newly constituted, a playoff-caliber team? “Absolutely,” Waddell said.

Great, more blustering from our hapless GM…He of past failed promises and insulting obfuscation…My question to Mark Bradley remains unanswered: What did you SELL OUT for, Mark? Why do you continue to defend the indefensible (i.e. the, umm, “performance” of our GM–you know, similar to the equally defended Pete Babcock, who similarly ran the Hawks into the ground over a decade of incompetence).

You’re a silly joke, Mark.

Baldheaded Thrasher

July 6th, 2009
9:06 pm

Oh I forgot Sage least but not last!

Mark Bradley

July 6th, 2009
9:16 pm

Me? Know anything about hockey? Sure don’t. What’s a “power play,” anyway? Those sound really exciting.

Blond Thrasher

July 6th, 2009
9:38 pm

Mark, nice smart alec remark. You may know a little something about hockey, but you sure know plenty about lazy journalism. Congrats, on yet another recycled piece that contains little substance and a ton of opinion. You site no sources, you lift quotes from other articles that any dedicated fan can recognize, and offer little more than a pithy opinion; which in my opinion is uniformed. At least you demostrate the ability to conitinue the tradition of lazy journalism here in Atlanta, especially at the AJC. In retrospect, I wish that instead of the buyout offers that were given to the entire staff at the paper, that it had been to completely eliminate the sports section editors and staff. Count me as a lost reader, I am tired of seeing this.

bigjohnthrashfan

July 6th, 2009
9:59 pm

I’m bored with all the negativity from sports fans in this town. I’m excited about next hockey season, and whatever happens, happens. It’s still not the perfect team, but how many other NHL teams are there in this city? Lighten up, nay-sayers, and enjoy the team we have.

If the team relocates, THEN what will you whine about?

10 yr plan

July 6th, 2009
10:07 pm

Mark,
Interesting piece as everyone knows Koyy has Waddell by the marbles. I really believe Dudley has run the show from the draft forward. Nothing against Don, but I feel the organization has made much progress in the past couple of weeks in part to Dudley’s stewardship.

ben

July 6th, 2009
10:16 pm

agree w/ 10 yr plan.

Mark Bradley

July 6th, 2009
10:32 pm

How exactly was an interview conducted four hours before posting “recycled”?

And “site [sic] a source”? Gee, let’s see: There are two sides involved in the Kovalchuk talks: The team and the player. I talked to the Thrashers’ general manager to get his take and quoted him voluminously. How is that “lazy journalism”?

And as far as offering opinion … well, that’s kind of what I do.

The Grinch

July 7th, 2009
12:27 am

It’s all good, MB. I still can’t trust Waddell; I hope these moves are made in real good faith and not just a way to trap Kovy in a downward spiral. I have learned not to trust either DW or the Spirit.

Andrew

July 7th, 2009
1:16 am

Mark,
Don’t worry about these idiots. You do a fine job covering the Thrashers. The complaining directly stems from the frustration with the team. Look at it this way, if we make the playoffs this year and you write a positive piece on the team then, you’ll be the greatest journalist in the world.

scottbravesfan

July 7th, 2009
3:02 am

Mark,

I just want to say thanks for writing about the Thrashers. I’m a huge Thrashers, Braves, and Falcons fan and people on Thrashers message boards always complain about the lack of coverage that the Thrashers get in the AJC but when someone does post something about the team all the fans do is complain about the AJC or call you names. And there are 32 comments and the story has been up for 12 hours. I guess they don’t read the blogs about the Braves that get 2000 replies in 12 hours. Hopefully Thrasher fans will get more involved on the AJC’s comments so they will show the AJC editor’s that there is an audience out there for Thrasher news.

tony318

July 7th, 2009
8:32 am

I agree with the poster who says they hope DW and ASG aren’t trapping Ilya in a downward spiral. If I were Ilya I’d sign a 2 or 3 year deal to make sure that doesn’t happen. We need 2 or 3 more years of this type off season. Carefully sign some nice pieces while staying in line with the “youth movement” not biting on the Kovalev’s (older relativley expensive) and Campbell’s (we got lucky that he wanted original 6). AND the asg need to start spending closer to the cap max by the end of that 2 or 3 year period (in order to keep our younger home grown stars)

In fact I think it may be in our best interest to make Ilya a 2 or 3 year offer (in addition to a long term deal) just to show him that we are committed to continuing to build the team using the draft and trades and not relying on hoping we sign the top free agents every year and he will not be “trapped”. Then at the end of the 2 or 3 year period, give him a contract that will let him retire as a Thrasher.

kracker

July 7th, 2009
9:16 am

Nice column, Mark. I had to lol at the genius who was castigating you for daring to express your opinions!

Considering the Thrashers recent moves in hiring Dudley, drafting Kane (and Klingberg & Morin), trading for Kubina and signing Antropov – with one more significant move involving a goalie possibly to be made – do you still feel the Thrashers should trade Ilya Kovalchuk?

PW

July 7th, 2009
9:26 am

I have heard DW say before that the future included a particular player and then they were gone. He is crazy to get rid of Kari without obtaining someone better than Kari.

Too bad they did not take Hossa serious. I have not looked at the numbers. Are we back to or over the potential we had with Hossa in goals? Armstrong was a good trade for Pascal but that is all. DW took a bath on that trade.

I like the moves. I like the fact that they are building a line for Kovy. His numbers and Antropov’s numbers should go up next season. Kovy has been consitant with no help for the last few years. Look out MVP here he comes.

However, if they are planning on Kane going straight to the team, it will depend on how he makes the transition. Will he be star struck at first like Little and Bogosian were? or confident with his own game? DW talked like he was going on the Kovy line. Big jump for a rookie.

Armstrong has not found his groove here yet either and Slater is capable of more but never on a line that allows him score.

Gary Steagald

July 7th, 2009
9:35 am

Great read! Stay on top of this. We need MORE THRASHERS COVERAGE!!!!!

Sam

July 7th, 2009
9:50 am

of course kovy isn’t gonna leave. kovy is a guy that doesn’t go for the money, he’s like marian hossa he wants to win.now maybe next season he might leave,it just all depends. how good we do this year. oh and by the way, waddel needs to go. HE TRADED GARNET EXELBY, our best defenseman FOR STUPID PAVEL KUBINA, who stinks!!! i think Rick Dudley, would get more respect. well, GO THRAHERS!!!

Sam

July 7th, 2009
9:53 am

oh, it’s me again. i think we need kari and we should trade pavelec. just give lehtonen 1 more chance and if he stinks. don’t wait for him to become a free agent!!! trade him during the season for pete’s sake!!! waddell doesn’t have common sense!!

Sam

July 7th, 2009
9:57 am

hey mark??? how long have u been a blogger? it sounds really interesting.

woody

July 7th, 2009
9:57 am

I will never forgive the AJC.com for their total lack of Stanley Cup final coverage this year. There was literaly nothing posted about this amazingly exciting series. Nothing on the Frontpage, Nothing on the Sports page, and nothing on the Thraher/NHL page. I think i saw some comments about in someones blog. The AJC will never take hockey seriously. Its too bad the Thrashers suck, it just makes people hate hockey even more down here in racist land.

Mark defend your AJC.com and its Stanley cup coverage I dare you.

Spud Webb

July 7th, 2009
10:06 am

Agreed, great job thus far in the offseason. He (DW) still has work to do. I’m not letting him off the hook that easy. I need to see a few years of good work like this. The facts are that for 11 years he has F’ed this thing up. I’m not going to jump for joy over 20 days when he’s given me 11 years of crap. I need good drafts, development of young players, “smart” trades, consistancy over the next however many years dandy keeps holding on to his job. Again, not sure how this guy has a job.
So good job DW, KEEP IT UP. I don’t want to hear about resources or this or that. Do the job. Use what you have, deal Kari, get a true number one center and lets get this thing rolling. I will guarantee you get a true number 1 center and kovy will stay and probably for less money than we think.

woody

July 7th, 2009
10:26 am

Please tell me how two ex-Maple Leafs from a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in several years are going to help the helpless Thashers make the playoffs. I am not excited at all. Fire WADDELL!! It is so past due.

Alan

July 7th, 2009
10:31 am

Imagine if Kovy’s text had read, “Trade me, now!”

“Tell him ‘trade me right f’ing now!’”

“Trade me right f’ing now!”

“Now, hang up.”

*click*

Darth Hater

July 7th, 2009
10:42 am

I think the AJC should trade Bradley and Schultz.

The bloggers write better articles, anyway.

Spud Webb

July 7th, 2009
10:47 am

Woody, are you serious?? So every player on every team that doesn’t make the playoffs sucks?? Great logic, classic Atlanta fan.
Bradley, I like your blogs, not sure why everyone gets so fired up at you??? Pent up aggression? Bad days at the office? Wifes fooling around?? Not sure, but again I enjoy your blogs. How are the AJC cutbacks your fault? Good good stuff.

woody

July 7th, 2009
11:24 am

This will be another heartless Thashers team. There will be no changes in the final standings come April.

Alan

July 7th, 2009
11:44 am

woody, since you’re so sure of the results at the end of this coming season …a season that hasn’t had one game played in it as yet… would you be so kind as to provide me with the winning lottery numbers?

Jimbo

July 7th, 2009
12:05 pm

Mark- good blog and good sparring with the gang. I suspect that you know a little more about hockey than you let on. Unfortunately Jeff S. jumps in every now and then and he obviously doesn’t know a “power play from fore play”.

Sean

July 7th, 2009
12:27 pm

How does Bisher’s ‘Atlanta is no longer “Losersville”‘ column still sit above yours on the Thrashers page? I didn’t even notice this article untils someone on the message boards pointed it out. Was starting to think y’all couldn’t figure out how to change that part of the page, lol.