GM 'aggressively exploring all ... options'
DULUTH, Ga. -- Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell broke his silence on the contract situation surrounding Ilya Kovalchuk on Thursday, saying negotiations are at an "impasse" and the team is exploring all its options.
"Our goal from the start of this negotiating process was to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a long-term contract," Waddell said in a statement. "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.
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"Ultimately, we offered Kovy more than $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 in the statement. "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 ($70 M). This offer is $0.5 million higher per year than any other player.
"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. Therefore, we are aggressively exploring all of our options as we move forward," Waddell's statement said.
Kovalchuk is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Waddell's statement came after Kovalchuk practiced with the Thrashers on Thursday morning in preparation for the team's next game Friday night in Washington.
"My job, I'm the player and my job is to go on the ice and play my best. Whatever happens happens," Kovalchuk said after the team's workout and prior to boarding a flight to Washington.
"I'm still under contract and I have to go and do my job. Like I said we've got a couple of games, very important games, we're one point behind a playoff spot; you never know what's going to happen. You've just got to show up and play and try your best," the Thrashers' captain and leading goal-scorer and point-producer said.
Prior to Waddell's statement, head coach John Anderson said he thought it wasn't true that the Thrashers were actively trying to trade their star.
"Active? I don't know whether they're actively trying to trade him. The team has to look at all its options. As we speak he's a part of our team, a big part of our team," Anderson told a larger than normal media contingent at the team's facility north of Atlanta.
"He commands a lot of ice time and as long as he's in my roster he's going to get a lot of ice time," Anderson said.
The Thrashers have made the playoffs just once in franchise history and were swept by the New York Rangers. They missed the playoffs last season and as of Thursday morning were in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, one point out of the last playoff spot.
Information from ESPN.com's Scott Burnside contributed to this report.
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