October 1, 2009 :: 12:24pm ET
Kovalchuk remains in wait-and-see mode
By David Pagnotta, TheFourthPeriod.com

[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 done."

"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 reached.

"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.

David Pagnotta 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.

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