Thrashers, Kovalchuk might meet this week

ATLANTA -- Ilya Kovalchuk will be in Atlanta this week to
see his new daughter, and the Thrashers hope they can meet with
their holdout forward 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

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

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

The Thrashers, who have never made the playoffs, took advantage
of the 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

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.

"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