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Thrashers sign Antropov in another big move // The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Chris Vivlamore
The text message might have been the best part.
After Thrashers general manager Don Waddell signed unrestricted free agent Nik Antropov on Thursday, his cellphone buzzed with a message from Ilya Kovalchuk.
A whirlwind week in the Thrashers’ offseason continued with the signing of Antropov to a reported a four-year, $16 million contract. The Thrashers did not disclose terms of the contract.
Antropov gives the Thrashers a top-6 forward, an offseason priority. They also traded for top-4 defenseman Pavel Kubina on Wednesday and drafted nine players last weekend, including forward Evander Kane. The No. 4 overall pick could make the NHL roster next season.
“Antropov really fits our needs,” said Waddell, who contacted Antropov’s agent at the noon start of the NHL free-agency period Wednesday. “This is the guy we targeted in free agency from the beginning. … I’ve said all along we didn’t need a lot of pieces, just a few key pieces.”
In the 29-year-old Antropov, the Thrashers get a sizable forward at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds. He had career-highs with 59 points, 28 goals and 31 assists last season. He had 46 points (21 goals, 25 assists) for the Toronto Maple Leafs before a trade-deadline move sent him to the New York Rangers for the final month of the season and the playoffs. He spent his first nine NHL seasons with the Leafs.
“I’m obviously excited to come to Atlanta,” Antropov said. “They have a young team, and I think they can make the playoffs.”
The native of Kazakhstan, which he represented in the 2006 Olympics, was the 10th overall selection in the 1998 draft by the Leafs.
Why was Kovalchuk ?ˆ” the next priority for Waddell this offseason ?ˆ” happy with the signing of Antropov? They were teammates, playing on the same line for several games for Kazan Ak-Bars in the Russian SuperLeague during the NHL’s work stoppage in 2003-04.
“He’s familiar with Ilya, and Ilya is familiar with him,” Waddell said.
Antropov also got a test message of his own ?ˆ” this one from Kubina, his teammate in Toronto.
“He sent me a text message asking where I was going, and I said ‘See you in September,’ ” Antropov said. “He didn’t believe me right away. It took some time to convince him.”
Antropov said he feels no additional pressure coming to the Thrashers as one of the pieces that could turn the team’s fortunes around.
“I played for 10 years in Toronto,” he said. “I’m used to that.”
Kovalchuk, the Thrashers’ all-time leading scorer, becomes a free agent following next season, if the franchise does not re-sign him. Kovalchuk has said that he wanted assurance that the Thrashers were moving in the right direction before he committed to a new contract.
“We are taking a big step in the right direction,” Waddell said. “Kovy can get his money any place. He wants to be a leader here. He wants to make sure he can do that.”
Waddell again said that he would speak with Kovalchuk’s agent in the middle of July and that both sides would like to get a contract done before the start of next season.
After a week of reshaping the team that has missed the playoffs the past two seasons, Waddell said he is finished shopping for big-time free agents, but could sign another player for depth.
Waddell didn’t expect the offseason moves to come together so quickly, but he hoped to get Antropov ?ˆ” the sooner, the better.
“We didn’t want this to drag out,” Waddell said. “The longer it goes on, the more teams could get involved. It was to our benefit to push it along.”
Also Thursday, as expected, the Thrashers re-signed forward Chris Thorburn to a multi-year contract.