Posted: Friday October 7, 2005 4:42PM; Updated: Friday October 7, 2005 5:10PM
Kovalchuk was the NHL's second-leading scorer in 2003-04.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
NEW YORK (SI.com) -- All-Star left winger Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta's leading scorer in 2003-04, is expected to reach a contract agreement with the Thrashers before the end of this weekend, SI.com has learned.
Kovalchuk, a restricted free agent, has been threatening to spend this season playing in the Super League in his native Russia. On Thursday, he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he would be leaving for Russia on Sunday.
But negotiations between the young star and the Thrashers have accelerated and now Kovalchuk will return to Atlanta, although there is no word on when he'll make his season debut. The Thrashers host Washington on Saturday, then have three days off before hosting Montreal next Wednesday.
The two sides have been discussing a multi-year deal, with Kovalchuk seeking close to $7 million per year while the Thrashers offered approximately $5.5 million annually.
The Thrashers want to avoid seeing Kovalchuk suit up for a Russian team, since NHL rules stipulate that any player who plays in Europe after the start of the NHL season must clear waivers in order to return to his original team.
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.
Kovalchuk's girlfriend delivered a girl this past weekend, Thrashers GM Don Waddell noted in a wire story earlier this week, and the player was in Atlanta to spend time with his newborn child. That gave the Thrashers an opportunity to meet with the player.
The Thrashers, who have never made the playoffs, took advantage of 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.