ATLANTA – The Atlanta Thrashers signed free agent forward Nik Antropov to a four-year, US$16-million contract on Thursday, setting up a reunion with Ilya Kovalchuk.
The 29-year-old Antropov played with Kovalchuk in Russia during the NHL lockout. General manager Don Waddell said Kovalchuk endorsed the signing with a text message saying “great job.”
Kovalchuk’s approval is important. The Thrashers’ captain and biggest star is entering his free-agent season, and has said he wants to see the team’s offseason moves before he talks about signing a new deal.
Waddell said the Antropov signing should help the team re-sign Kovalchuk.
“Certainly, it’s going to help us through the process,” Waddell said. “Ilya wants to be part of a winning organization and this is a big step in the right direction.”
On Wednesday, Waddell acquired defenceman Pavel Kubina in a four-player deal with Toronto.
“I said we didn’t need a lot of pieces, we needed key pieces, and that’s what we’ve added,” Waddell said.
Antropov set a career high with 59 points and 28 goals with Toronto and the New York Rangers last season. He was traded to the Rangers on March 4.
He had 56 points with the Maple Leafs during the 2007-08 season.
Waddell said he will complete the free-agency period before opening talks with Kovalchuk. He said both parties want to conclude negotiations before the 2009-10 season.
“My feeling is once we get at it, hopefully it will move along relatively quickly,” Waddell said. “There’s not a rush to get there today or tomorrow.”
The Thrashers also re-signed forward Chris Thorburn on Thursday. Thorburn had 15 points, including seven goals, in a career-high 82 games last season.
Antropov (6-6, 230) and Kubina (6-4, 244) add significant size to the Thrashers’ roster, after the team committed to such smaller players as Bryan Little and Rich Peverley.
“We thought to give them the best chance of having some success we needed to surround them with some size,” Waddell said.