Kovalchuk unlikely to re-sign by season opener

General manager Don Waddell said Wednesday he remained “confident” that a new deal with the Thrashers’ franchise player would be reached and sooner rather than later.

“I don’t think it’s going to get done before opening night,” Waddell said. “We’re going to talk again in the next 24 hours but I don’t see it getting done.”

Waddell later added: “I don’t think we’ll be talking about this at Christmas time.”

Waddell previously said he’d thought there would be  a new deal struck before the start of the season. Kovalchuk is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Waddell and Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman, met in Atlanta last Thursday and continued talks through the weekend.

“It’s an on-going process. There is no deadline,” Waddell said. “They haven’t stated a deadline: ‘If we don’t get signed by Saturday, we’re not going to sign.’ It’s a work in progress.”

Kovalchuk said he was not in a hurry to sign a new contract and that the negotiations won’t be a distraction this season.

“We have a lot of time. I have a year left,” Kovalchuk said. “I didn’t put any pressure on them and they didn’t put any pressure on me.”

Pavelec has the ball

Thrashers coach John Anderson declined to announce who will start in goal for Saturday’s season opener against Tampa Bay.

However, he later said, “[Ondrej] Pavelec has played well the whole training camp. Right now he’s kind of got the number one job. … He’s got the ball, he’s got the ball.”

So if Pavelec has the ball … “You’re a smart guy,” Waddell told the inquiring reporter.

Pavelec said he has not been told who will start Saturday.

Injury update

In other goalie news, Waddell confirmed that Kari Lehtonen, recovering from off-season back surgery, will start the season on the injured reserve list. He offered no timetable for his return. Lehtonen started skating without equipment a week ago and appears several weeks away from returning.

Forward Colby Armstrong practiced on Wednesday, his first skating session since injuring his groin in an exhibition game. Afterward, he said he felt “great.”

“He’s ready physically,” Anderson said. “We’ll see how his conditioning is. That’s the only stopping point for him.”

Gratton keeping it quiet

Forward Josh Gratton, who signed with the Thrashers as an unrestricted free agent, made the roster that was submitted to the NHL Wednesday.

“They told me to come in and have a good camp and I’ll have a good chance to make the team,” Gratton said. “Luckily I did everything they asked and I’m here now. It was an uphill battle but I finally got here. The first step was making the team and now I just have to stay here.”

Prior to the 3 p.m. roster deadline, Gratton was not about to share the good news.

“I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch,” he said. “[After the deadline], I’ll probably call my family and say that I made the roster.”

Etc.

*Defenseman Nathan Oystrick cleared waivers Wednesday and remains property of the Thrashers. He could have practiced with the team but chose not to while waiting until noon to see if he was claimed by another team.

*The one-year, $800,000 contract agreed to Tuesday by Max Afinogenov is far below what the forward has made during his career. Waddell said Afinogenov was given salary parameters before agreeing to come to training camp on a pro tryout.

*Waddell said he offered goalie Manny Legace, released last week, a contract to play with the team’s AHL affiliate in Chicago. Legace declined the deal and will attempt to sign with a team in the United States or Europe. Waddell said he would stay in contact with Legace about a possible return if he is unsuccessful finding another team.

*British Open championship Stewart Cink dropped by the Thrashers lockerroom on Wednesday and brought something with him. The Duluth resident and Thrashers fan had the Claret Jug in tow.

*Top draft pick Evander Kane will start the season with the Thrashers and his playing time is to be determined.

“He’s certainly going to get some penalty kill time,” Anderson said. “… With him being able to score so freely in juniors and skate so well, we certainly have to look at him on the power play. Right now we want to get him accustomed to the league. … We have no plans to sit Evander Kane on the bench. Will he play as much as Ilya Kovalchuk? No. How he plays will dictate his ice time. We’ll see what happens but he’s certainly going to get ice time right away.”

*The Thrashers will announce team captains at Thursday’s Face Off event for season-ticket holders at Philips Arena.

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