December 17, 2009 :: 12:03am ET
contract talks continue
By David Pagnotta,
[TORONTO, ON] -- For years, one of the
National Hockey League's best kept secrets has been hiding in
He's never grabbed major headlines.
He's never been given the key to the city. He's never been the poster
child for the NHL.
Too bad, because Ilya Kovalchuk's worthy
of all of those things and more.
Now in his eighth season with the
Atlanta Thrashers, Kovalchuk has scored an average of 42 goals per
year, and he's on pace for over 50 this season. He's arguably one of the
most dynamic and most potent offensive players in the game.
he's getting a tone of attention, but for all the wrong reasons.
Kovalchuk, 26, is in the final-year of
his current contract and can become an unrestricted free agent this
coming July. The native of Tver, Russia, has been grabbing a lot of
headlines lately over his future with the Thrashers.
Various media outlets have published
conflicting reports surrounding Kovalchuk's future with Atlanta. Some
claim he's all set to leave, others believe he'll re-sign, and some
even suggest he'll end up in the KHL.
Having spoken to Kovalchuk and his
agent, Jay Grossman, several times over the last few seasons, it's
become very clear to me that Kovalchuk genuinely wants to stay in
Atlanta. I'll be the first to admit how surprise I was to hear that,
but after continuously being told the same thing, it finally sunk in.
Kovalchuk wants to build a winner with
the Thrashers, that much is certain. (I was at the All-Star game in
Atlanta a couple years back and the fans absolutely love this guy.)
He's devoted, dedicated and committed. He helped the team lure free
agent Nik Antropov this past summer and has been involved in a variety
of team functions.
At the same time, though, he can't let
his passion cloud his judgment. As much as he may want to stay, it may
be in his best interest (for his career both on and off the ice) to
play the free agent market this summer. If that's the decision he ends
up making, the Thrashers will have no other choice but to field trade
For now, contract talks between Grossman
and Thrashers GM Don Waddell are ongoing and the lines of
communication are wide open.
On Wednesday, a report from Russian
daily sports newspaper Sovetsky Sport claimed negotiations had stalled
after Kovalchuk's party demanded a 10-year contract worth $11.5
million per season. The paper then went on to suggest that Waddell is
now considering his trade options, with Vancouver and Los Angeles
supposedly knocking on his door.
After receiving a boat load of emails
about this, I decided to do some digging. One source denied the report
and told me
the Thrashers haven't even begun to consider trading Kovalchuk, while
another very well-placed source simply scoffed at the entire article.
While I wouldn't be surprised to see
Kovalchuk obtain a 10-year deal, or longer, I'd be shocked if he
pulled in that kind of dough.
First off, a player's salary cannot
exceed 20% of the salary cap, which would make the maximum salary
$11.34 million per season based on this year's cap figure of $56.7
Secondly, several league executives
don't believe any player in the league will receive more than $10
million per season over such a long period of time -- Alex Ovechkin's
13-year deal with a $9.538 million annual salary currently leads the
Waddell has acknowledged that he has
full support from ownership to get Kovalchuk locked up to an
extension and to give him the big bucks. He also knows that if these negotiations drag on into
February, he's going to have to start exploring other options.
Neither party has implemented a timeline
to getting a deal finalized. But whether the Thrashers are first in
the East or battling for eighth position by the time the Olympic break
kicks in, if Kovalchuk isn't signed to a long-term contract, Atlanta
will have to entertain trade offers and subsequently move him. The
fans will understand; the Thrashers cannot afford to let him
walk as a UFA in July. If he leaves, expect the entire organization to
quickly follow suit.
As it stands, the communication channels
are still very open; nobody is pressing 'ignore' on their cell phones,
and that's a good time.
There's still time.
How the next three to
six weeks play out will ultimately solidify Kovalchuk's future with
Atlanta, one way or another.
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.