Should Thrashers GM Don Waddell not be able to re-sign the two-time 50-goal scorer who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, he very well could end up in Black and Gold.
After Wednesday's performance against the Bruins — in which the Russian superstar notched a goal and an assist and showcased his explosive speed and shot — Kovalchuk probably looks even more appealing to the Bruins. But neither Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli (due to possible tampering charges for commenting on another team’s impending free agent) nor Waddell would discuss Kovalchuk’s contract situation.
“As long as you don’t ask me about Kovalchuk, I’ll talk to you,” Waddell told NESN.com with a smile. “I’m sorry, I’ve just said all I can say on the matter. It is what is.”
What he recently said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is that he, Kovalchuk and Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, have hit a snag in contract talks. The Journal-Constitution suggested that if the stalemate isn’t broken soon, Waddell may look to trade the 26-year-old Kovalchuk instead of taking the chance that Kovalchuk walks away next summer.
"Our position is different than his position right now," Waddell told the newspaper on Monday. "Their position is fixed years with money and we have a different side of that. That's what we have to work through. We've gotten through everything else, now we have to make it through that."
Following Wednesday's morning skate, Kovalchuk took the high road when asked about where the talks stood.
“Like I’ve said a lot of times, I like everything in Atlanta and hopefully, I’m going to stay,” Kovalchuk said. “My agent and Don talk a lot. They met in Atlanta and hopefully there’s going to be some progress soon.
“I hope it’s not a distraction for the team, for sure. It seems like it’s not. We’re playing well and it’s not [a distraction] for me. I’m not thinking about it. I’m thinking about my game and my team. It’s all about them, you know.”
So for now, everyone will have to wait and see, but keep in mind that the Thrashers consistently finish at the bottom of the league in attendance and have already been forced to deal away another impending free agent in Marian Hossa. They will do whatever necessary to keep Kovalchuk, and if they can’t, they will probably want more than the plethora of draft picks the Bruins can offer. The Thrashers will want stars who can help the team win now and put fans in the seats.
Recently, the names Blake Wheeler and Tuukka Rask have been mentioned as players Atlanta would ask for if they were to entertain dealing Kovalchuk to Boston, but sources told NESN.com on Thursday that there is no way that Chiarelli would entertain anything involving Rask, as he is already proving he can be the team’s No. 1 goaltender.
One thing is for sure: All eyes will be on Kovalchuk again when the Thrashers visit the TD Garden next Wednesday — and when they travel to play any playoff contender as the trade deadline approaches.
The questions remain: When will Waddell have something new to say? And when he does, will it be, “make me your best offer”?