How the Devils Stole Ilya Kovalchuk From Atlanta

Usually when trades are made, each team tries to give the other team something of value – something they want – if only to be able to make a deal with that team again. But in reality, your team is trying to rob the other team blind — kind of like what happened to the Atlanta Thrashers when they traded the best player of their short-lived franchise’s life to New Jersey for a less-than stellar package of players and draft picks. Sure, draft picks can be very valuable, but they are only valuable if your team’s scouting staff does their homework and knows how to work the draft to get what their franchise needs. This is something that the Thrashers franchise rarely ever did, at least not enough to build a winning franchise. The argument can be made that even the player New Jersey selected with the draft pick they received in the deal (Jon Merrill) is already or will be better than the combination of all of the assets that the Thrashers received. In other words, Atlanta got fleeced in this deal!

Ilya Kovalchuk

Kovalchuk was able to escape from Atlanta (Credit: John Julian/Flickr)

The deal: On February 4, 2010 Ilya Kovalchuk is traded from the Atlanta Thrashers with Anssi Salmela and a 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft (Jon Merrill) to the New Jersey Devils for Johnny Oduya, Nicklas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, a 1st round pick in the 2010 draft (Kevin Hayes) and a 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft (Justin Holl).

Since joining the Devils, Kovalchuk hasn’t reached elite sniper status like he did in Atlanta, but he has been very productive despite the perception of so-called experts in the industry and was a key cog (even with a wrecked back) in their run to the Finals last spring before the succumbed to the Los Angeles Kings. In 185 regular season games with New Jersey, he has put up 170 points (78 goals) and contributed 25 points (10 goals) in 28 playoff games.

Ilya Kovalchuk’s career stats courtesy of hockeydb.com:

 

With Zach Parise’s summer departure, Kovalchuk is now the face of the franchise along with Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias as the foundations. Despite what some may believe or tell you, Kovalchuk does make other players around him better. Look at the amount of money Marc Savard made after his stint in Atlanta alongside Kovy. Imagine what Adam Henrique’s career will become if he is centering Kovalchuk for the next 6-8 years, especially after Henrique came from out of nowhere last season and finished as a Calder Trophy finalist.

Kovalchuk with a key goal in a key moment in Game 6 of the 2012 ECF:

Currently still enrolled at the University of Michigan, Merrill is projected to join the Devils organization in the next year or two and will be a building block on the blueline with Adam Larsson for years to come. Here’s what New Jersey’s top-6 defenseman could look in the not too distant future: Merrill, Larsson, Mark Fayne, Anton Volchenkov, Brandon Burlon and Alexander Urbom or Andy Greene.  

Anssi Salmela left the Devils organization after the 2010-11 season and is currently in the KHL with Omsk Avangard.

For the Thrashers – or Winnipeg Jets as we now call them – I’m assuming that Patrice Cormier was the centerpiece of the deal for them and that they wouldn’t have made the deal without him included. To say Cormier has struggled since the deal went down would be an understatement; the 54th overall selection in the 2008 has only skated on NHL ice for 30 games – with a grand total of two points: one goal and one assist. He is currently with St. John’s in the AHL and at best would be a checking line center if he ever makes it back to the NHL.

Patrice Cormier’s career stats courtesy of hockeydb.com:

Johnny Oduya was a very serviceable defenseman with the Devils, and he has done the same things since departing New Jersey. He played a solid season and a half with Atlanta/Winnipeg and was dealt to Chicago at last year’s trade deadline. He wasn’t too shabby in the Windy City either, posting three points in six playoff games against Phoenix in first round for the ‘Hawks.

Oduya scores a beaut of a goal with end-to-end rush:

Niclas Bergfors showed flashes of brilliance with the Devils, but far too often he vanished for weeks upon weeks without making a dent in the score sheet. He lasted a total of 79 games with Atlanta before the Thrashers traded him with Pat Rissmiller to the Florida Panthers for Radek Dvorak and a 5th round pick in the 2011 draft (Sean Kuraly). For the last two seasons he has continued to do not too much with Cherepovets Severstal in the KHL.

The two picks Atlanta got in the Kovalchuk deal (Justin Holl & Kevin Hayes) were actually turned into some nice assets, well at least one nice one. The rights to Holl and Hayes were traded from Atlanta along with Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, and Jeremy Morin to Chicago for Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, Akim Aliu and Dustin Byfuglien.

Byfuglien highlight goal from way downtown:

So to summarize, the Devils added Kovalchuk (the NHL’s leading goal scorer since 2002-03 with 377) and Merrill to their roster and the Jets/Thrashers added Cormier and Byfuglien. Sounds like a fair deal to me! Oh, and there’s also Kuraly who just started his first collegiate season at Miami University (Ohio); who knows, maybe he transforms from a nobody to a somebody.

Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via email: drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Dan Rice

Dan Rice

Dan Rice is in his 3rd year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 10+ years at various websites. He began his career working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & his resume also includes an internship at the ECHL.
Dan Rice
RT @HockeyMeesh: Marc Bergevin’s daily to-do list: 1) acquire defenseman, 2) text “lol” to Boston - 6 mins ago
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