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 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 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 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.
"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.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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