October 1, 2009 :: 12:24pm ET
Kovalchuk remains in
By David Pagnotta,
[TORONTO, ON] -- One of the main stories
everyone will be focused on this season revolves around superstar Ilya
Kovalchuk and his future with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Kovalchuk, 26, is in the final year of his contract and can become an
unrestricted free agent following the 2009-10 campaign.
The native of Tver, Russia has expressed an interest in staying in
Atlanta, but remains set on waiting to see how well his team performs
this season before making up his mind. Plain and simple, he wants to
win, and if the Thrashers show signs of becoming a Stanley Cup
contender, he'll gladly stick around for the long haul.
"I think it's pretty crucial to him to play in a hockey environment,
in a sense that there's real competitiveness," Kovalchuk's agent, Jay
Grossman, told TFP. "He's had that in his career and most of it has
been with the Russian national team."
His willingness to re-sign with the Thrashers, providing they're much
improved, is genuine. Despite numerous hockey pundits questioning his
mindset, wondering ‘why would he want to stay,’ Kovalchuk likes the
organization, enjoys the city and wants to build a winner with the
team he started with.
Kovalchuk even helped the team sign free agent Nik Antropov this
summer, acting as a recruiter a few days before the veteran center
joined the club.
"He's a big part of the team. He's the captain," Grossman said. "He
certainly takes on the responsibility. It's a team game and you've got
to have the other parts in order to win."
Thrashers GM Don Waddell seems confident his club can sign Kovalchuk
to an extension at some point this season, though his timeframe might
appear to be a little optimistic.
"I don't think it's going to get done before opening night (this
Saturday)," Waddell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We're
going to talk again in the next 24 hours but I don't see it getting
"I don't think we'll be talking about this at Christmas time."
Grossman admits talks with the Thrashers "has been really good," but
he's not putting a timeline in place as to when a deal could be
"The dialogue has been pretty constructive," he said. "I think Ilya's
feeling that you don't get too many opportunities to sit and evaluate
these things. I think he wants to use that time to make sure he feels
comfortable; I don't think he wants to be disingenuous and sign up for
something he isn't about to follow through with."
Too many athletes have jumped head-first into a new contract with a
team they're not thrilled to be with just because of the dollars
tossed their way. Kovalchuk will get his money, that much is certain,
and it's the least of his worries.
"We have a lot of time. I have a year left," Kovalchuk told the
Journal-Constitution. "I didn't put any pressure on them and they
didn't put any pressure on me."
In Kovalchuk's seven-seasons as a Thrasher, the team has only made the
playoffs once in 2006-07, and that ended quickly -- a four-game sweep
courtesy of the New York Rangers.
While nothing is set in stone, if the Thrashers get off to a hot start
and their top line of Kovalchuk, Antropov and Bryan Little creates
sparks right off the bat, there's a much better chance of a deal being
reached during the season.
But, if everything hits the fan and the Thrashers cannot get their
acts together by the Olympic break, we could see Kovalchuk sporting a
new jersey by the Mar. 3 trade deadline.
Either way, Kovalchuk isn't about to rush into a decision. Whether it
favors the Thrashers remains to be seen.
is the Editor-in-Chief of
The Fourth Period Magazine and covers the
NHL for TheFourthPeriod.com. He is also a
contributing writer for NBCSports.com and MSNBC.