It appears that Dave Pagnotta of The Fourth Period has come across someone willing to talk about the Kovalchuk talks. Judging from the nature of the information, I'd venture a guess that it is someone from the Kovalchuk side of the table.
The key section in this article is that the following:
Kovalchuk, Grossman, Waddell and part owner Bruce Levenson all got together at the end of October to map out a game plan. According to a source, it was the first time the green light was given to start contract talks.
Instead of jumping at the chance to sign Kovalchuk right away, the team was focused on bringing in new investors and it took two months before contract negotiations finally picked up.
I'd love to say that I don't believe this quote, but I can't say that. This would not be the first time that Thrashers budgeting has been held up by indecisive ownership. GM Don Waddell is not going to throw his bosses under the bus, but his ability to engage in long, medium or even short term planning has been hampered at times by a lack of timely decisions about how much money he is allowed to spend. It is hard to formulate a multi-year plan if you don't even know how much money you can spend this year.
I can also confirm that Atlanta Spirit has been working hard to find new ownership. Prospective owners have been performing due diligence and kicking the tires. But there have been no announcements of additional partners so far. Any new ownership must be approved by the NHL Board of Governors and since there has been no public disclosure of new applicants to the BOG, I must infer that the efforts to add new ownership blood have come up empty to date.
It's a sad state of affairs for Thrashers fans really. On the one hand, Ilya Kovalchuk apparently wants to stay in Atlanta--but only if he is one of the highest paid players in the NHL. Personally, I wouldn't commit to paying more than 20% of my budget to a guy who only plays offense. On the other hand, the Thrashers ownership appears to be just as dysfunctional as when they were suing each other in court.
Earlier I blamed Don Waddell for waiting too long to fish or cut bait in the Kovalchuk talks, but it appears that ownership might be even more to blame for pushing the decision making process into December. Don Waddell certainly shares a large portion of credit or blame for the performance of this team, but even if the GM were replaced ownership problems would remain. (Do you think any potential rising star in the NHL management ranks would want to work for these superiors?) If ownership tells DW "sure you can sign Kovalchuk--just wait for us to get a new owner on board" well that certainly makes a decision to fish or cut bait more difficult.
And if anyone thinks that Don Waddell's plan was to have this drag out until the spring of 2010, here's what he said in the spring of 2009 when I asked if we could see a repeat of the Hossa saga:
I don't think [contract negotiations] will last all season. I think it will be pretty quick. For me the decision is "does Kovalchuk want to stay?" and if he wants to stay for the money--we can pay it or we can't. I think before the start of the year we will have this thing done, one way or the other--hopefully with him re-signed.
Stay tuned for more twists and turns.