December 23, 2009 :: 12:53pm ET
It's not only about the
By David Pagnotta,
[TORONTO, ON] -- There are a number of
factors that come into play when a free agent is about to sign a new
Dollars and cents are certainly one
major component, along with the overall length of a deal. But let's
not forget to consider the following: local community, family,
schools, friends, teammates, big/small market, weather, media
attention, privacy... the list goes on.
For Ilya Kovalchuk, it's not all about
Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, and
Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell have been going back and forth for
several months trying to come to terms on a new contract.
a face-to-face meeting over the weekend, Waddell spoke publicly this
week (for the first time since October) about the negotiations,
updating the local media.
"We still have a long ways to go,"
Waddell said. "It's been an interesting negotiations because there's
been so many other factors that have entered into the contract as far
as where our team is and where we're heading.
"I still remain optimistic that we will
get something done. I don't have any kind of timeframe. We seem to
have hit a little snag right now and we're going to take a little time
to re-think our positions and we'll get back after the holidays."
When the season start, Waddell was
convinced he'd have Kovalchuk locked up to an extension by the New
Year. He even went as far as to tell the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
back in October, "I don't think we'll be talking about this at
Kovalchuk has repeated several times
that he wants to remain a Thrasher, something he reiterated to me
earlier this month. One source close to the Russian star told me, "He
wants to be a Thrasher for life."
But as much as he wants to stay and
build a championship with Atlanta, those "outside" factors are in the
back of his mind.
According to several sources, Kovalchuk
is somewhat concerned with the future of the franchise. Will they stay
in Atlanta? Is relocation a possibility in three, four, or five years?
Waddell says no, but there are plenty of people out there who believe
it's a possibility.
"The one thing we continue to keep
telling people is this franchise is not going any place," Waddell
said. "Every time there's ever talk about a franchise moving we always
get lumped in there.
"This franchise is not going any place,
but we do get lumped in and it's a concern of a player that's going to
sign a long-term contract to remain with this franchise. He'd be
signing that contract to stay here in Atlanta and not think we'd be
going someplace else. There are of those kinds of factors you have to
And that's something weighing on
It's believed the Thrashers are willing
to sign their captain to a long-term deal, well past a 10-year term.
However, money is playing another role in the decision process.
Waddell told the Journal-Constitution,
"Their position is fixed years with money and we have a different side
To clarify, it doesn't look like the
Thrashers want to dish out the same amount of cash the Kovalchuk camp
is asking for.
Taking into account the question-marks
surrounding the stability of the franchise -- regardless of what
management says, the future of the team in Atlanta isn't firm -- it
wouldn't be out of the ordinary for Kovalchuk, or any player for that
matter, to ask for a higher salary to offset any concerns.
There's no guarantee this is the
direction Kovalchuk has taken, but it would seem logical and it
certainly wouldn't surprise some of the people in the league I've
Does this mean that Kovalchuk is asking
for the 20% maximum salary, the most a player can receive in the
salary cap world? Not necessarily. I'd be very surprised if he, or any
player, received such a high contract.
I'm still under the impression Kovalchuk
is asking for close to the $9.5 million annual salary Alex Ovechkin
received in Washington, much to the chagrin of Waddell.
a different contract. He was a restricted free agent and our player is
an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year," Waddell said. "Ovechkin's
contract is what it is and Washington did it. We don't look at that.
We look at what we think is a fair contract for him to be here in
Atlanta and what it's going to take to keep him here."
Read that quote again and think
carefully. ("We don't look at that"??) It certainly leads one to
believe the Thrashers may not be willing to dish out a contract in the
$9 million neighborhood.
Ovechkin and Kovalchuk are similar,
whether the Thrashers like it or not. They're both the faces of their
franchise. They're both dynamic goal-scorers. They're both .. Russian.
Granted, Ovechkin has put up better
numbers (to date, he's average 1.3 points per game in his career), but
he's had arguably better linemates. Kovalchuk, who has played
alongside Marian Hossa and Marc Savard, has averaged 1.03 points per
game, but is on pace for over 50 goals this year and near 100 points.
You cannot win with just one superstar,
but it definitely helps. How many players would love to play alongside
Ovechkin in Washington? Or Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in
Pittsburgh? If the Thrashers keep winning, you'll see players itching
to get in on the action. But they need Kovalchuk.
If the Thrashers are balking at the idea
of paying Kovalchuk $9 million a year over a very long-term contract,
then they are now left with two options: 1) Try to work out a deal in
the five-year range; and 2) trade him.
According to one source, the idea of a
lesser term is a possibility. Whether both sides fully explore that
option remains to be seen, but I'm no longer convinced that any less
than an eight-year deal is out of the question.
As for the second option, I think the
Thrashers may have cursed me out after reading that. Waddell does not
want to trade Kovalchuk, and I don't blame him, neither would I.
However, if this "snag" isn't resolved a month from now, the Thrashers
will have to seriously consider moving their most prized possession.
At this point in time, any trade talk is
taboo. Waddell isn't considering it, and anything suggesting otherwise
is false. Are teams asking about Kovalchuk? Probably. But the answer
remains no... for now.
"Would I rather have got this deal done
three months ago," Waddell asked. "I know one thing... I would have
gotten more sleep by now. It still remains our first choice to get the
deal done as quickly as we could."
In order for that to happen, they may
need to open their supposedly loose wallets a little wider.
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.