Ilya Kovalchuk still is a member of the Thrashers -- at least for now.
Despite being told by general manager Don Waddell that he will be traded, Kovalchuk practiced with the team Thursday. He later departed for Washington to play against the Capitals on Friday.
“We’ll see what happens,” Kovalchuk said. “I’m still a Thrasher. We have a couple of games before the [Olympic] break, and I’m going to concentrate on that now. … I’m still under contract. I have to go and do my job.”
Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman, confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday that his client, and then he, was informed by Waddell of the team’s intention to trade the franchise player.
Kovalchuk, who will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, spoke to a large contingent of media following Thursday’s practice. He said his conversation with Waddell actually took place between his off-ice workout and on-ice practice Wednesday. Despite being told the team’s intention, Kovalchuk will remain in the lineup.
“I asked [Waddell] if I’m going to play [Friday] and he said yes. So I just show up and do my job. … I’m ready [to play]. That’s why I was practicing today.”
Waddell issued a statement Thursday. In part it said: “We’ve spent several months exploring scenarios with Kovy and his agent to reach a mutually beneficial agreement and offered many lucrative packages in an attempt to meet his financial objectives. Unfortunately, we’ve reached an impasse and at this point he has declined all of our proposals and we can’t reasonably go any higher. …
“If we went beyond these offers, we would not be able to retain the young players on our roster when it came time to sign them, or invest in other top-tier players needed to assemble a truly competitive team. Therefore, we are aggressively exploring all of our options as we move forward.”
Thrashers coach John Anderson said Kovalchuk will continue to play as long as he is property of the team -- despite the risk of injury.
“There are three options out there,” Anderson said, insisting the team still could sign or play out the season with Kovalchuk. “They are all being explored. Whatever happens, happens. We are all anxiously awaiting a decision whether he’s going to be here or not. I would like to know, too. The reality is, it’s not at that stage yet.
"Obviously with the trade deadline coming up we’ll find out sooner than later. As we speak right now, he’s in the lineup. He practiced on the power play. He’s going to get his 20-25 minutes of ice time. Hopefully he does some really good things [Friday] so we can beat Washington.”
NHL rosters will freeze from 3 p.m. Feb. 12 until 11:59 p.m. Feb. 28 because of the Winter Olympics. March 3 is the trade deadline.
Thrashers players said they have not been informed of any pending move.
“For us, no one has said anything,” forward Colby Armstrong said. “Kovy hasn’t said anything. … I wouldn’t know it being around the rink today and practicing with him. … I think he’s handled it pretty well. He didn’t seem like anything was distracting him. He’s upbeat out there and having a good time, just like regular old Kovy.”
One player who can understand Kovalchuk’s plight is Nik Antropov, who signed with the Thrashers as a free agent during the summer. He was told by Toronto last season that he no longer fit the team’s plans. He was dealt to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline. While saying he knew what Kovalchuk was going through, Antropov declined to be specific.
Until a trade is made it is possible that Kovalchuk could sign. Offers from both sides remain on the table, however a contract “should be a good deal for everybody, not just for one side,” Kovalchuk insisted.
Kovalchuk said he did not think being told he would be traded was a negotiating ploy.
“It’s nobody’s fault,” Kovalchuk said. “Everybody in the locker room can be traded. I’m in the same position as anybody. If they tell me I can be traded, that’s OK, too. I just have to show up and play. I love my teammates. I’m one of them [right now].”
Kovalchuk has been seeking the maximum salary under the collective bargaining agreement, which is 20 percent of the salary cap, or roughly $11.3 million per season. Grossman confirmed that he has not come off that number and was asking for a “lifetime” contract in the 10-to-12-year range.
The Thrashers have offered multiple deals, none close to that range. Waddell has offered close to max money, $10 million a year, but only in shorter-term contracts (three, five or seven years). The Thrashers’ last offer on the table was for $101 million. But that spanned 12 seasons for an annual average of $8.42 million. Waddell confirmed the offers in his statement.