DULUTH, Ga. - The Atlanta Thrashers are exploring "all of our options" after hitting an impasse in contract negotiations with star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, general manager Don Waddell said Thursday.
In a statement, Waddell said Kovalchuk has rejected all of the his contract offers and the team "can't reasonably go any higher."
"Ultimately, we offered Kovy more than US$101 million over 12 years, which would have been the highest contract signed by an impending unrestricted free agent in the history of the league," Waddell said. "If accepted, this contract would have been the second-highest offer ever to any NHL player.
"We also met his desire to be the highest-paid player based on average annual salary with a separate offer of seven years at $10 million per year. This offer is $500,000 higher per year than any other player."
Waddell said increasing the offer would mean Atlanta couldn't retain its young players when their contracts expired and no other "top tier" free agents could be signed.
Kovalchuk insisted he felt no awkwardness Thursday as he showed up for what might have been his last practice with the Thrashers.
The trade deadline is March 3 but teams are forbidden from making any transactions from 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 12 to just before midnight Feb. 28 because of the break for the Vancouver Olympics.
Kovalchuk will become an unrestricted free agent when the season ends.
"You never know what's going to happen," he said Thursday. "You just have to show up and play and try your best."
Kovalchuk's 328 career goals lead the NHL since the Thrashers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2001. But Atlanta has made just one playoff appearance and never won a post-season game during his time there.
He's in his second season as captain for a team that is 11th in the Eastern Conference with 56 points. Three teams are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot with 57 points.
"The rumours have been flying all season long," he said. "What do you want me to do?
"Sit at home and cry? I love hockey, and not just because of money. I guess I want to show up, play and win games."