This was the best deal Atlanta could get for Ilya Kovalchuk. It just wasn’t good enough.
Not for a franchise player. Not for one of the game’s great scorers. Not when a team desperate for a playoff spot is just one point out.
Not by a long shot.
This deal is the worst of all worlds for the Thrashers. They did little to help themselves in the short term and arguably even in the long term by getting defenseman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, controversial junior prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick that could be near the bottom of the round from the New Jersey Devils. And they lost the only player anyone in their generally disinterested market may have been familiar with.
Thrashers Don Waddell blew this. Then again he was destined to as soon as the season began and a contract extension hadn’t been worked out for the pending unrestricted free agent. As hard as Waddell tried hard to create a market for a superstar player, he had his back to the wall and no way to push off.
Waddell’s best shot at striking it appropriately rich was during the off season when more teams might have been inclined to give up some big names and gamble they could re-sign the player before he hit free agency this summer. But Waddell held out hope that he could convince Kovalchuk to commit to Atlanta, going as far as adding free agents to make the team more competitive and theoretically more appealing to its captain.
It worked to the extent that Atlanta is in the playoff hunt right now. And Kovalchuk did keep saying how much he liked Atlanta and wanted to stay there. Maybe he did. Those close to him say his feelings were genuine. But Kovalchuk always had dollars signs in his eyes and according to Waddell, turned down several major offers. One would have paid him over $100 million, another would have averaged $10 million per season.
That wasn't enough though, making it imperative for Atlanta to move him, the sooner the better. The gun would have felt much colder next to Waddell's head by the March trade deadline, but even now, the problem was the lack of teams able to fork over that kind of money. And there were even fewer willing to give up much on the chance he would be something other than a rental who could end up back in Russia next season.
So New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello bided his time and then pounced. The Devils’ Stanley Cup window is closing as goaltender Martin Brodeur gets older and they could be a strong contender this season with a scoring boost Kovalchuk will provide. Think of an offense that includes him, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Not bad huh. And certainly worth the price even if the Devils don’t re-sign Kovalchuk because anything New Jersey gave up is easily replaceable.
In other words, New Jersey comes out the big winner in this blockbuster trade. And once again, Atlanta gets burned.