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Waddell: Kovalchuk talks at an impasse

by Adam Kimelman
If there was any question on what the Atlanta Thrashers were going to do with Ilya Kovalchuk, it seems like the answer is to expect a trade.

And with Thrashers scheduled to play their next game Friday in Washington, a move could come fast.

On Wednesday, Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell informed Kovalchuk that he could be traded soon, and on Thursday, he issued a statement saying contract negotiations have reached an impasse.

"Our goal from the start of this negotiating process was to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a long-term contract," Waddell said. "During the process, Kovy affirmed his desire to be a Thrasher for life. We've spent several months exploring scenarios with Kovy and his agent to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, and offered many lucrative packages in an attempt to meet his financial objectives. Unfortunately, we've reached an impasse and at this point he has declined all of our proposals and we can't reasonably go any higher."

Waddell said the club offered Kovalchuk a 12-year, $101 million deal, but it was rejected. Waddell said it would have been the highest contract ever signed by an impending free agent in NHL history.

Waddell also said a $70 million, seven-year deal was rejected. Waddell said that deal would have made Kovalchuk's average annual salary $10 million per season, $500,000 more than any player in the League.

"If we went beyond these offers, we would not be able to retain the young players on our roster when it came time to sign them, or invest in other top-tier players needed to assemble a truly competitive team," he said. "Therefore, we are aggressively exploring all of our options as we move forward."

Kovalchuk went through practice like normal Thursday morning, and told reporters the tumult that surrounds him isn't affecting him.

"The rumors fly all season long," he said. "What do you want me to do? Sit at home and cry? … We're all professionals. We have to be ready every game and show up and play your hardest.

"We'll see what happens. I'm still a Thrasher, and we've got a couple more games before the break and we have to focus on that now."

He did say, however, that if something is going to happen, he hopes it happens soon.

"The rumors are going to be louder and louder because the deadline is coming up," he said. "We're still in a battle for the playoffs. It is a distraction for everybody but somehow we have to find a way to go through it and do our best."

There are a number of teams reportedly in the mix to acquire Kovalchuk, among them the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings. How viable those rumors are remains to be seen, but with the Thrashers one point out of a playoff spot, Waddell likely is expecting a significant return for his captain and star forward -- reportedly he's asked for a top-six forward, a top-four defenseman and a prospect.

Kovalchuk is fifth in the League with 31 goals, and he also has 58 points. In his eighth season in Atlanta, he is the franchise's all-time leader in games played (594), goals (328), assists (287) and points (615).

He expressed hope that something could change that would keep him in Atlanta, but didn't seem positive.

"Yeah, why not?" he replied when asked if a deal was possible. "You never know."

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