Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Kovalchuk to meet GM this week in Atlanta

ATLANTA (AP) - Ilya Kovalchuk will be in Atlanta this week to see his
new daughter, and the Thrashers hope they can meet with their unsigned
star winger during his visit.

Kovalchuk, a restricted free agent, is threatening to play this season
in his native Russia if he can't agree on a contract with the
Thrashers. "I think things will start to shake out in the next little
while," general manager Don Waddell said Monday.

Kovalchuk almost certainly will miss the start of the season with the
Thrashers, who open Wednesday at Florida.

Kovalchuk tied Columbus' Rick Nash for the NHL lead with 41 goals in
the last season before the lockout. He also had 46 assists, finishing
32 points ahead of Atlanta's second-highest scorer.

His girlfriend delivered a girl this past weekend, according to
Waddell, and the player is scheduled to fly in Tuesday or Wednesday to
spend a week with his child. During that time, Waddell wants to meet
with the player.

"It wouldn't be so much to hammer out a deal," Waddell said. "I want
to explain to him where we're headed as a franchise. I know he wants
to play for a winning team. I think we've made good changes to do
that. I'd like to sit down and talk with him if possible."

Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, did not immediately return a telephone message.

The Thrashers, who have never made the playoffs, took advantage of
league's new salary cap to bring in plenty of help for Kovalchuk up
front. Bobby Holik and Peter Bondra were signed as free agents, and
Marian Hossa was acquired from Ottawa in a deal for Dany Heatley.

The team also expects to be much better defensively with newcomers
Jaroslav Modry, Niclas Havelid, Tomas Kloucek and former first-round
pick Braydon Coburn. In addition, top goaltending prospect Kari
Lehtonen is set to take over in the nets, backed up by Mike Dunham.

Waddell said the Thrashers are willing to give Kovalchuk a slightly
better deal than the one Nash got from the Blue Jackets: five years at
$27 million US.

"It's all about the money," Waddell said. "We've also discussed the
length of the deal, talked about different options."

The Thrashers are facing one crucial deadline. If Kovalchuk plays a
game in Russia after Wednesday, he would have to clear waivers to
return to Atlanta this season.

"Twenty-nine other teams would have to pass on him," Waddell said.
"That's never going to happen."

If Kovalchuk sits out games in Russia, he would have until Dec. 1 to
agree on a contract with the Thrashers to play in the NHL this season.

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