Ilya Kovalchuk is on track to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2010. Virtually everyone expects that salary cap to decline to some degree heading into the 2010-11 season.
Now I assume Kovalchuk wil be looking for an Ovechkin sized 10 year deal--but given the economic uncertainty many of the usual big spending teams might be in a cap crisis.
Furthermore the Thrashers seem like they have something pretty exciting going on with their young players--and they will add a top 5 player in this summer's NHL draft to that young mix.
Kovalchuk seems to really like being Captain and being The Man on the Thrashers--but he probably also wants to win.
Given all of these conditions I wouldn't be shocked to see the following happen--a compromise 2 year extension. Why? Kovalchuk could go for even more money if NHL cap revenues rebound and the cap rises. Kovalchuk can give Atlanta 2 more years to construct a contender--but if it doesn't happen he can then become a UFA. The Thrashers get to keep the face of their franchise and keep fans happy.
Pushing the ticking clock of Kovalchuk's UFA status back 2 years gives all sides more options. Kovalchuk can see what direction the team is headed. Kovalchuk is better positioned to cash in on an economic rebound. The Thrashers get a final opportunity to make this team a contender. Will it happen? Stay tuned.