ATLANTA (Ticker) - The Atlanta Thrashers parted ways with one of their two superstar forwards. They may be doing the same with their other shortly.
According to a report on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's website Saturday, restricted free agent Ilya Kovalchuk will begin pursuing a contract with a team in his native Russia.
Agent Jay Grossman told the Journal-Constitution a deal could be reached early next week. On August 23, the Thrashers traded right wing Dany Heatley to Ottawa for Marian Hossa and defenseman Greg de Vries.
Should he sign a contract with a Russian team, Kovalchuk - who made $1.13 million in 2003-04 - can negotiate freely with the Thrashers until October 5, the opening day of the NHL season. Beyond that date, the 22-year-old must clear waivers before returning to Atlanta, but he undoubtedly would be claimed by another team.
Atlanta general manager Don Waddell expressed his desire to reach an agreement with Kovalchuk but would not divulge the gap between the team's offer and the player's request.
"We want him in Atlanta, he wants to be in Atlanta. We're going to do everything we can to make it happen," Waddell told the newspaper on Friday. "I'd say we have a difference (in monetary demands) right now."
The first overall pick in the 2001 draft, Kovalchuk has been a dynamic offensive player for the Thrashers, collecting 108 goals and 205 points over his first three seasons. In 2003-04, the native of Tver made his first All-Star appearance and was a co-winner of the Maurice Richard Trophy after netting 41 goals in 81 games.
Kovalchuk scored 29 goals as a rookie in 2001-02 and increased the total by nine the following season. However, he has a tendency for defensive lapses, which have landed him on the bench for extended periods of time during games.
The Thrashers open training camp Monday and play their first exhibition game September 18 against Montreal. Atlanta begins the 2005-06 season at Florida on October 5.
-thanks to www.tsn.ca