January 11, 2010 :: 7:33pm ET
Worth every penny
Kovalchuk wants long-term security
By David Pagnotta, TheFourthPeriod.com

[TORONTO, ON] -- Proposals have been exchange. Offers have been presented. Air miles and cell phone bills continue to pile up.

It's clear the Atlanta Thrashers want Ilya Kovalchuk locked up to a new contract, but just how badly they are able to sign their captain long-term is another matter.

Thrashers GM Don Waddell and Kovalchuk's agent Jay Grossman speak on an almost-daily basis. There's no doubting the fact these two men are trying to smooth out any rough patches in these negotiations. Unfortunately, it seems whenever one area is taken care of, another pops up.

With all the new contracts floating around the league these days, you can't fault any high-end player for asking for a 10-12 year deal. Given the recent contracts players like Alex Ovechkin (13-years), Duncan Keith (13-years), Marian Hossa (12-years) and Mike Richards (12-years) have received, nobody should blame Kovalchuk for wanting a 10+ year term.

According to well-placed sources, the Thrashers have pitched several multi-year offers that would make Kovalchuk the highest-paid player in the NHL. While that may seem fine and dandy on the surface, it's become evident the 26-year-old superstar is interested in signing a deal beyond a seven-year term worth market value.

Read the last part of that sentence again... I repeat: Worth market value.

Something that's been misconstrued in all these Kovalchuk stories lately is the fact that he can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Think about that for a second; a player of Kovalchuk's caliber, at the age of only 27, hitting the open market as a UFA. It's never happened before.

If the Thrashers are already offering him significant dollars near the $10 million mark, annually, what's to say another team isn't willing to step up with either a long-term deal or a more lucrative contract this summer?

As good as Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are, there's nothing wrong with Kovalchuk receiving a higher annual salary. The Capitals were happy signing Ovechkin to a 13-year contract, just as the Pittsburgh Penguins were pleased to have Crosby locked up to a five-year extension. I can tell you one thing, regardless of what Kovalchuk receives, Crosby will trump him.

But for now, a 10-year deal in excess of $10 million per season isn't far fetched. It's extremely realistic and someone will step to be table.

It appears, however, as if the Thrashers are unable to get a deal done, and it's not necessarily for a lack of trying.

As I stated earlier, Waddell and Co. have presented a number of different offers, but they fall far from what Kovalchuk is looking for, term wise.

I understand where the Thrashers are coming from, and it's extremely unfortunate. Their ownership group is, for lack of a better term, a mess. The Thrashers have been trying to lure additional investors, but it's been a difficult sell. Add to that the uncertainty of Kovalchuk sticking around beyond this season and you're in a very tough position.

At the same time, Kovalchuk is concerned with the future of the franchise and isn't interested in a short-term fix (or contract).

Kovalchuk, Grossman, Waddell and part owner Bruce Levenson all got together at the end of October to map out a game plan. According to a source, it was the first time the green light was given to start contract talks.

Instead of jumping at the chance to sign Kovalchuk right away, the team was focused on bringing in new investors and it took two months before contract negotiations finally picked up.

It's a little hard to fault the Thrashers given their predicament, but two months? That's very valuable time lost because of outside factors.

This isn't the first time the club's ownership group has gotten in the way of taking the team to the next level. They failed to keep Hossa or Marc Savard, or add any replacements that mirror their talent level.

I'm not going to sit here and blame Kovalchuk, or any other player, for wanting security. I can't. You can't. And you can't use money as an argument, either -- he'll get the big bucks somewhere else. He isn't just in it for the money. Everyone knows it's coming. As much as he loves Atlanta, Kovalchuk wants to build long-term success with any team he plays for and if the Thrashers aren't in a position to sign him beyond a five- or seven-year deal, then it's time to make a move.

If the Capitals refused to sign Ovechkin for more than five-years, how thrilled do you think their fans would have been knowing he wanted to stay in Washington for 13 more seasons?

Kovalchuk's made it clear. He wants to stay in Atlanta long-term. In today's contract world, that's no longer seven seasons.

Contract negotiations will remain ongoing, but trade talks will undoubtedly pick up. A new deal isn't out of the question, but don't be surprised to see Kovalchuk sporting another jersey come March.


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.

  Archives:
  Dec. 30, 2009 Tampa's success rides on Lecavalier's shoulders
  Dec. 23, 2009 It's not only about the money for Kovalchuk
  Dec. 17, 2009 Kovalchuk dominates, contract talks continue
  Nov. 24, 2009 Pouliot finally arrives in Montreal
  Oct. 16, 2009 For Bozak and Leafs, the future should be now
  Oct. 01, 2009 Kovalchuk remains in wait-and-see mode


 

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