Wednesday June 1st, 2016 1:28AM

Next step? Thrashers sign Bobby Holik to $12.75 million deal

By The Associated Press
<p>The Atlanta Thrashers took a big step toward their first playoff appearance, signing center Bobby Holik to bolster an offense that already includes Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley.</p><p>Holik, who was bought out by the New York Rangers after the league and players agreed to a new labor deal, signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract with the Thrashers on Tuesday.</p><p>Atlanta general manager Don Waddell moved quickly to sign Holik, considered one of the biggest prizes on the free agent market.</p><p>"We're excited about where this franchise is headed," Waddell said. "I'm very confident in the group of players we've put together. We're taking it one step at a time. But this franchise is poised to take the next step, and we will take the next step."</p><p>The Thrashers had the best season in team history before the lockout, winning 33 games and finishing second in the Southeast Division with 78 points. Still, they were 13 points shy of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.</p><p>The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Holik fills one of Atlanta's biggest needs _ a big, strong center. Also, he's expected play a major leadership role on the ice and in the locker room, having played on the New Jersey Devils' Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1995 and 2000.</p><p>"From an organizational standpoint and a team standpoint, we couldn't sign a better player to get us where we want to go, which is the postseason," Waddell said.</p><p>Holik, 34, has been in two all-star games and scored at least 20 goals nine times in his 14-year career. He looks forward to joining a team that made vast improvement after Bob Hartley took over as coach in January 2003 and has two of the NHL's most talented scorers.</p><p>Kovalchuk scored 41 goals to go along with 46 assists in 2003-04. Heatley missed part of that season recovering from injuries sustained in a car wreck that killed teammate Dan Snyder, but returned to score 13 goals and 25 points in 31 games.</p><p>"They have a lot of young players looking to make their mark in this league," Holik said. "Every since Bob got to Atlanta, the team has a better feel. They compete every single night. I feel like he's driving his players to be their best on any given night. It just seems like the right situation. I'm very excited by my decision."</p><p>Holik was the New York Rangers' second-leading scorer in 2003-04 with 25 goals and 56 points. But the team bought him out after the lockout was settled instead of paying the $6.726 million he would have made this season.</p><p>Holik still gets two-thirds of his projected salary with the Rangers _ which had been slashed 24 percent by the rollback in player salaries under the new labor agreement. He signed with the Thrashers for $4.25 million per season.</p><p>"I didn't want a buyout," Holik said. "I just dealt with the cards I was dealt. Obviously, I got a great contract from Atlanta. But there's more to it than that."</p><p>With Kovalchuk and Heatley on the wings, the Thrashers now look solid up the middle with Holik, Marc Savard (19 goals and 52 points in just 45 games in 2003-04), Patrik Stefan and Serge Aubin.</p><p>Holik joins a group of newcomers that also includes right winger Scott Mellanby and defenseman Jaroslav Modry, who were signed before the lockout but have yet to play for Atlanta.</p><p>While the Thrashers have been criticized for failing to pursue big-money free agents, Waddell said it was time to make a move. The team has a new ownership group _ dubbed Atlanta Spirit _ that is eager to compete under the $39 million salary cap.</p><p>"The salary cap puts us all on equal ground," Waddell said. "I know it's a change for me from the last five or six years. I now have a green light, and to me green means go. That was not always the case. This ownership realizes how close we are to taking it to the next level."</p><p>A native of the Czech Republic, Holik started with the Hartford Whalers in 1990 and had his best years after moving to New Jersey. He joined the Rangers in 2002, signing a five-year, $45 million contract.</p><p>Holik has 281 goals, 642 points and 1,102 penalty minutes in his career.</p><p>While New Jersey expressed interest after Holik was let go by the Rangers, he didn't have serious discussions with the Devils. The Thrashers were at the top of his list.</p><p>"I didn't really want to explore any more offers," Holik said, "This is fair and this is where I really want to be."</p>
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