Kovalchuk talks hit snag: HNIC Take 5

HNIC's senior online reporter Tim Wharnsby dishes out the latest news, buzz and inside information in the hockey world.

1. Gap to mind in Kovalchuk’s talks with Atlanta

Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell admitted there is a "snag" in his contract extension talks with star forward Ilya Kovalchuk. Waddell and Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman, met face-to-face in Atlanta last weekend.

"Our position is different than his position right now," Waddell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "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."

The Thrashers GM is optimistic the two sides can solve the differences. Kovalchuk, eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, has maintained he wants to remain in Atlanta.

"It's a business," Kovalchuk said. "I think every player goes through that. It’s the first time for me. It's [management's] decision, but I like everything here. Like I've said a lot of times, I want to play with one team all my life, but you never know."

2. Panthers exact revenge on scoreboard and with fisticuffs

Nobody enjoyed the Florida Panthers 4-1 victory in Philadelphia more than David Booth. The talented sniper suffered a concussion the last time these two clubs met on Oct. 24. Booth has not played since he was nailed with a blindside hit by Flyers centre Mike Richards, but is expected to return in the New Year.

Booth was in Philadelphia on Monday and watched from the press box. He witnessed eight fights and 95 minutes in penalties. The main event was when Florida captain Bryan McCabe took on Richards in the first period with the game still scoreless.

"We did what we needed to do," Booth told reporters. "It set the tone. Guys didn't back down. It was good to see [McCabe] there sticking up — that goes a long way. The guys not only did that, but they played well. That's the best part about it."

"I think we righted some wrongs and that's why Bryan McCabe is our captain,'' coach Pete DeBoer added. "He took care of business and set the tone for us.''

3. Captain Canada in tough

Los Angeles Kings veteran Ryan Smyth expects to return to the lineup in Phoenix on Saturday. But has being out of sight and out of mind with a rib injury since Nov. 16 hurt his chances at making the Canadian Olympic team?

Smyth has bounced back with his new team this season, registering 23 points in his 22 games before the injury. But now he has only two games to put himself back on the Canadian Olympic radar before executive director Steve Yzerman makes his roster announcements on Dec. 30.

"Yeah, I have to say it's been playing a little bit in my mind also. I haven't heard from anybody," he told the Los Angeles Times. "It's disappointing being injured, at the time how things were going for myself personally. I would love to play on that team but that's not my choice to make."

4. Kiprusoff now silent on the Olympics

Earlier this season, Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff claimed he was interested in playing for Finland at the Olympics in Vancouver only if he was guaranteed to be the country’s No. 1 goalie and if he was healthy.

His comments caused quite a firestorm back in Finland and now he no longer wants to discuss whether he will represent Finland for the first time at a Winter Games.

"I said something a couple of months ago and it was a huge story, so I’m done talking," he told the Calgary Herald. "Let’s see what’s going to happen.

"If they pick me, they pick me … let's talk about it then."

The Finnish junior team will meet Canada in an exhibition game in Calgary on Tuesday.

5. Top 2 in West meet in Chitown

Man, the NHL schedule maker has delivered some outstanding holiday-time matchups. An evening after the top two teams in the Eastern Conference — the Devils and Penguins — clashed in Pittsburgh, the two best clubs in the West meet for a showdown in Chicago. The San Jose Sharks will try to avenge a 7-2 loss at home to the Blackhawks on Nov. 25 when they visit the United Center on Tuesday. The Blackhawks are finishing up a five-game homestand, in which they have won the previous four outings.