Done deal.

Finally, after years of speculation, reported here as early as July 2008, the second-best Russian winger is off the market…for at least three more months.

Official reports, confirmed by TSN here that Thrashers Kovalchuk along with defenseman Anssi Salmela have been traded to the New Jersey Devils for John Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and a 2010 1st-rounder.

On the surface, this deal is pretty similar to a deal that landed Marian Hossa in Pittsburgh two seasons ago for the same reason of impending UFA status.

Here are the stats for the players involved:

Player Age Salary GP G A Pts Drafted
Going to New Jersey
Ilya Kovalchuk (LW) 26 6.4M 49 31 27 58 1st overall 2001
Anssi Salmela (D) 25 0.6M 29 1 4 5 Undrafted
Going to Atlanta
John Oduya (D) 27 3.5M 40 2 2 4 221st overall 2001
Niclas Bergfors (LRW) 22 0.8M 54 13 14 27 23rd overall 2005
Patrice Cormier (C) 19 —- 54th overall 2008
2010 1st Rounder —- —- —–

Compared to the Hossa trade in 08, which shipped Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis to Pittsburgh for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and 1st Rounder, this trade is less rewarding for the Thrasher, if you consider the value of Kovalchuk versus Hossa to the franchise.

The key pieces here for Atlanta is Oduya, a 2010 Swedish Olympian who has matured into a top-4 puck-moving defenseman with unreliable scoring upside. In 40 games this season, however, he’s only managed to find the net twice in 40 games, hardly a comparison to Colby Armstrong during Hossa’s trade.

The other key piece is Niclas Bergfors, a first-rounder in 2005, who was in and out of the main club since drafted by New Jersey. This is his first full season with the club, and is playing some decent hockey as a 2nd-line right-winger, along-side linemates Zubrus and Rolston. In 54 games he’s played, he notched 13 goals and 14 assists; nothing to get too excited about, but he’s still only 22, and this production is achieved under a defensive-style of hockey in New Jersey.

Salmela and Cormier are unproven spare-parts at this moment.

As for the 1st-rounder, the Devils rank fifth in the entire league right now, so less a monumental meltdown, this will only be a late first-round pick in a mediocre draft-year.

(Side note: It’s been mentioned that the team also swapped 2nd rounder in the 2010 draft, which of course goes favor to NJ)

This doesn’t sound like an attractive deal to me, but considering all the rumors lately, this seems like the best deal by some margin, since Atlanta GM Don Waddell was pretty quick to pull the trigger after announcing failure to re-sign his star player. It goes to show the market value for an unsigned elite player in today’s NHL.

The next question for Devils fans is of course, whether the team has any chance of re-signing Ilya in the off-season. Nothing is certain at this moment, but on paper, the Devils picked up an extra $2.7M in salary from this trade. The team is very close to the cap with less than $2-million cap space right now. Although there will be ten UFA be the end of this season, none of them have salary higher than $1-million each.

Right now, in NHL, the maximum salary a team can offer any player is 20% of the teams’ payroll. If the Devils is willing to do that, which they have to, according to expectations coming from Kovalchuk’s camp, they will have to offer $11-million to retain Kovalchuk’s service. This will be very difficult to do, since the team will be at least $2-million short in cap-space.

There are ways to maneuver around this, just like what Chicago did with Hossa, New York with Gaborik or Vancouver with Luongo. New Jersey will probably have to offer a 15-year contract and sign Ilya until he’s 42 to spread the salary cap to about $7-million per season. This will of course tied New Jersey down for many many years to come.

Lou Lamoriello might not want to do this, since home-grown super-talent Zach Parise’s contract will be up after next season. At $3.13M per season, Parise is bound to get a huge raise, this must be something the crafty New Jersey GM is constantly thinking about.

Of course, the last question is, why do they need Kovalchuk??

The Devils now sit 2nd in the East with 72Pts, top of the Atlantic division. The team’s top left-winger Parise has just one fewer points than Kovalchuk. How will Jacques Lemaire fit Kovalchuk into his line-up. Unless one of Parise or Kovalchuk switches to play right-wing, one of them will have to play a 2nd line role, so who should that be??

Could this simply be a move for the post-season? Fitting the definition of a “rental” player? This blogger thinks likely, especially if you consider the price they paid for Ilya’s service. After all, Kovalchuk’s game doesn’t exactly fit with Lemaire’s style of hockey. Since he is finally calling the shots, after eight years of service in Atlanta, does Lamoriello honestly believe he will sign back??

Anyways, as cliche as this might sound, with this Kovalchuk trade, the flood-gate is now open, I surely expect more domino effects from this before the Olympics.

Signing out.

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