Waddell on Kovy talks: 'More time that goes by, it doesn't bode well'

January, 29, 2010
01/29/10
12:59
AM ET

With each passing day, the chances of Ilya Kovalchuk finishing the season in Atlanta grow smaller and smaller, and it will be a sad day for the Thrashers' franchise if and when the captain exits.

So let's freeze time for a second and recognize a beautiful moment for what it was. There hasn't been a bigger victory in the Atlanta Thrashers' season than Thursday night's comeback affair in Philadelphia.

"I'm proud of the guys," Atlanta GM Don Waddell told ESPN.com after the game.

Hey, let's face it, with everyone in hockey knowing Kovalchuk's days are probably numbered, give credit to the rest of the team. No one would criticize these guys for folding up the tent with the impending trade of their superstar.

Instead, they've rallied this week with wins over Anaheim and Philly, and they went to bed Thursday night in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, looking down at an eight-team logjam that's separated by only two points.

"It's only our second regulation win here in Philadelphia in 10 years, and the other time I was coaching the team," Waddell said with a laugh. "But it's a big win tonight. Especially these head-to-head games, these are the teams you're fighting with. We were one point behind Philly coming in; if you lose [in regulation], suddenly you're three behind. This vaults us into a spot now where we need to be. We just have to keep on picking up points and we'll be good."

The man under the microscope, Kovalchuk, started the comeback with a goal just 29 seconds into the third period, his team-leading 31st of the season. Rookie Evander Kane (Atlanta's future franchise player?) had a big night as well.

"Evander Kane used his speed on his two assists tonight, and he went to the net," Waddell said.

Don't forget the old goat in goal, Johan "The Moose" Hedberg, who stood tall again with 34 saves.

"I can't say enough good things about Hedberg," Waddell said. "His last three games, he gave up one goal in each of them, but we won only one of them. He didn't have much to show for it, so that was nice tonight."

But hovering above everything is the situation with Kovalchuk. It's what Waddell wanted to avoid, and that's why he began to court his captain last summer. But with no extension signed, it's become the NHL story this season.

Waddell said his players have been able to not let it affect them too much so far.

"I talked to some of the guys, and it's really not something that's in the room," Waddell said. "Kovy has done a good job of keeping it out of the room from his end. I have the pulse of the room. So, as long as it doesn't become a distraction in there ... and obviously a game like tonight proves that it's not a distraction. We'll just keep going along here. We've got 5-6 games before the Olympic break, and we'll see what happens."

Everyone by now knows the super-talented Russian is slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. Waddell can't let him walk away this summer and get nothing in return. So, despite the fact Atlanta is sitting in a playoff spot, if there's no contract extension soon, Kovalchuk is likely a goner.

"Nothing new; it's just ongoing," Waddell said when I asked for an update. "We have a [contract] offer on the table that's there. Obviously, more time that goes by, it doesn't bode well and it's not encouraging, but I'm still holding out hope that we can get him signed."

But at least for one night, hockey was a game again ... and the Thrashers had some fun.

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