Ilya Kovalchuk’s days in Atlanta are numbered.
Kovalchuk was informed by Thrashers general manager Don Waddell after practice Wednesday that he will be traded. Kovalchuk then phoned agent Jay Grossman, who later was told the same thing by Waddell.
“It certainly appears to be the direction the club is moving in,” Grossman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Ilya’s disappointed. But we appreciate the fact they’ve been honest about what their plans are.”
Waddell was not available for comment.
Negotiations between the Thrashers and its captain and star player, who will become an unrestricted free agent following the season, have been ongoing for months without reaching agreement on either the salary or duration of a long-term contract.
The Thrashers’ next game is Friday night in Washington. It seems unlikely the team would want Kovalchuk in uniform, while negotiations for his departure are ongoing. His destination, most likely a playoff contender, and a timetable for a deal have not been determined. Teams most often mentioned as interested in Kovalchuk have been Los Angeles, Boston, New York, New Jersey, Calgary and Philadelphia.
“I’m the player and my job is to go on the ice and play hard,” Kovalchuk told the AJC following practice but before he spoke to Waddell. “We are all professionals. I’ve worked here for eight years and hopefully I will stay but you know it’s a business and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Kovalchuk has been seeking the maximum salary allowed 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 during negotiations and was asking for a “lifetime” contract in the 10-to-12-year range.
The Thrashers have offered multiple deals, none close those terms. Waddell has approached the cap allowance with an offer of $10 million a year, but sought shorter terms (at three, five or seven years). According to Grossman, the Thrashers’ last offer on the table was for $101 million but the deal would span 12 seasons for an annual average of $8.42 million.
WhileKovalchuk’s demands may seem excessive, even Waddell has conceded there is no contract comparable, because no other player of his status has ever been on the verge of unrestricted free agency. The closest comparables are Columbus forward Rick Nash ($8 million per year for eight years), Carolina’s Eric Staal ($8 .25 million for seven years) and Tampa Bay’s Vinny Lecavalier ($9.71 million for eight years).
In each of those cases, the player signed his contract extension the year before unrestricted free agency. The bigger contract belongs to Lecavalier, who is three years older than Kovalchuk (26).
Kovalchuk said Wednesday that he recently spoke with several members of the Thrashers to ensure that his situation was not becoming an issue. He said he was more concerned with the team’s playoff future than his own.
“You don’t want to be a distraction,” he said. “We are in a playoff race and we are only one point from the playoffs.”
The Thrashers entered Wednesday’s NHL schedule 11th in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind three teams tied for the eighth spot.
“We are all aware of the situation,” defenseman Ron Hainsey said following practice. “To say we are not would be lying. At the same time we are playing every other day for two months and we don’t have that much time to worry about it, especially when it seems like every game is against a team that’s a point ahead of us or a point behind us. It’s a lingering issue for the team, but really we have bigger ones trying to keep ourselves in one of the playoff spots."
“This happens every year in more than one place. We can all see a calendar and know we are close to a resolution one way or another.”
A deal involving Kovalchuk would likely happen sooner than later.
NHL rosters will be frozen from 3 p.m. on Feb. 12 until 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 28 due to the Winter Olympics. The trade deadline falls three days later on March 3.
"As players you have to perform every night,” forward Todd White said. “You’ve got to be ready. Things are out of your control. You can’t be worried about it. Those guys from Calgary [Dion Phaneuf, Jean-Sebastian Giguere and Fredrik Sjostrom, who were traded to Toronto on Sunday] played the other night when there were rumors that they were traded. When you put the jersey on, you have to have your head in the game.
“Anybody can be traded at any time.”
Kovlachuk, the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, is the franchise’s all-time leader in most offensive statistical categories, including games, points, goals and assists. He currently has 31 goals, fifth in the NHL. He missed six games earlier this season with a broken foot.
“It’s part of the business,” forward Marty Reasoner said. “Kovy has been a professional. He hasn’t really talked about it. He doesn’t let it get to him. We all go about our business ... but we know that’s out of our hands. You go out and do what you are supposed to do. As you get older you realize that the only things you can control are the things you do on a day-to-day basis.”