Kovalchuk decision looming: analysts
A decision by Atlanta forward Ilya Kovalchuk on his future is coming soon.
The impending Thrashers free agent will decide in the next few weeks whether he will re-sign with the club or choose to test free-agency, according to analysts Pierre LeBrun and Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night in Canada's Hotstove segment on Saturday.
"That could happen in the next couple of weeks. [There are] a lot of positive feelings coming out of Atlanta," LeBrun said. "But there's a team in the [Kontinental Hockey League] … that I think would love to get its hands on him."
That team is Russia SKA Saint Petersburg, operated by KHL president Alexander Medvedev. If Kovalchuk moves back to Russia, it would be the biggest coup so far for the fledging super-league.
Kovalchuk has spent all of his eight NHL seasons with the Thrashers, who drafted him first overall in 2001.
But he's only had limited playoff success with the team. Atlanta only reached the post-season once with the Russian in the lineup, in 2006-07 when the Thrashers were swept in the first round.
If Kovalchuk chooses not to sign with Atlanta, Friedman said he might make the move to Russia.
"A number of Russian players around the league believe that if he's not in Atlanta next year, he will go back to Russia," he said. "And the question is: Does he want the money [that will be offered in the KHL], or does he want to stay in the NHL?"
The 26-year-old had one of his best statistical years last season, scoring 43 goals and adding 48 assists for 91 points. The total was good for sixth overall in the NHL scoring race.
The NHL and KHL are embroiled in a battle over player poaching, as the Russian league has signed a number of the NHL's restricted free agents.