Would Ilya Kovalchuk Put the New Jersey Devils Over the Top?

Doug GausepohlCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2010

ATLANTA - JANUARY 07:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the Atlanta Thrashers against the New York Rangers at Philips Arena on January 7, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Hard to be critical about a team who owns one of the NHL's best records at 32-15, but during the Devils' three game losing streak, a weakness in their scheme may have been exposed.


They're currently tied for 17th in the NHL with 2.66 goals per game, more than a whole goal behind league leader Washington (3.71).  And Jersey's team isn't terribly off from the worst goals per game average, either (Boston/Carolina with 2.44).

Defensively, you can't really ask for more.  The Devils stand tied for second in the league, giving up just 2.21 goals-per-game. 

Consider where the team is in the standings for just a moment with their anemic offense and power play.  There is no division leader with a lower goals per game average than New Jersey.  Before play tonight, there were only three teams below the Devils in offense that have a record at or above .500.

If you ask a hockey expert, they'd say the Devils could use a second-line center to stand in front of the net, block the view of the goaltender, and tip oncoming shots. 

If you ask someone who watches the Devils everyday, they'd say they just need someone to put the damn puck in the net.

Well, what a coincidence that one of the best goal scorers in the NHL is very much on the trade market. 

Atlanta Thrashers winger Ilya Kovalchuk is due to be an unrestricted free agent come July 1.  He and the Thrashers organization have tried to come to an agreement on a contract, but at the time of this article, none had been reached. 

In 42 games this season, Kovalchuk has gathered 28 goals and 25 assists for a grand total of 53 points.  That's 1.26 points per game

Needless to say, it's going to take a nice crop of players to pry Kovalchuk from the Thrashers' grasp.  With impending free agency, and the fact that no one will show up to the Philips Arena if the Thrashers biggest star is Rich Peverley, the Thrashers would like try to get a second-tier star or two in return for their prized winger.  Some names being thrown around include Marty Turco (uh, why?) of the Dallas Stars and Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers.

The presence of Kovalchuk on the Devils would improve their offense dramatically and automatically.  Getting him won't be tough and won't be cheap, but can be done.

If I'm Atlanta's GM, I'm thinking about getting three NHL-ready players.  I don't worry about draft picks, because you can tell based on the Thrashers recent history that drafting hasn't worked out exceptionally well (giving Kane the exception).

Since offense is New Jersey's problem, it makes sense to try and stay away from giving up too many forwards in exchange for Kovalchuk.  So let's start this trade proposal by giving Atlanta two defensemen and one forward.

The first ones up on the list for defense would be either Paul Martin or Andy Greene. They're very similar players, but the impending free agency for Martin will make him more appetizing for the Thrashers, while allowing New Jersey to clear cap room.  Andy Greene is under contract for one more year after this one, and he isn't as proven as Martin.

So Martin is the first name on the list.  Considering there's been talk among Devils fans that he may not need to be re-signed in the offseason, this isn't a killer.

Then bolster up the offer with a physical defenseman.  The two most expendable names that come to mind are Mark Fraser and Matt Corrente.  Corrente's younger, has one more year on his contract (only $600k), and has shown in limited NHL time that he's not afraid of anybody.  Corrente's the next name on the list.

Paul Martin and Matt Corrente.  Not a bad start, but the Thrashers are going to want a goal scorer. 

This is where it gets tough.  There's three that come to my mind: Niclas Bergfors, David Clarkson, and Vladimir Zharkov.

I'm honestly not sure how good Bergfors is going to be.  I can see him being a potential 40-45 goal scorer, but I can also see him being a run-of-the-mill 20 goal scorer.

Trading Clarkson would be a killer on the fans, he's become a fan favorite over the past couple seasons.

Zharkov would be a tough sell to Atlanta; he's been a noticeable guy on the offensive end of the ice but he has no goals to show for it.  This is a results business, and Zharkov doesn't have those yet. 

So, if I'm Lamoriello, I offer Paul Martin, Matt Corrente, and Niclas Bergfors.  A solid group of players, and you still have young defensemen in Mark Fraser and Andy Greene, with young forwards in Nick Palimieri and Vladimir Zharkov.

You don't decimate the system while bringing in one of the best in the game.  If they don't accept it, you move on and look at other options.

I understand this comes with the risk of losing some great young talent for a rental, but that's the territory.  Maybe Kovalchuk comes here, scores a ton of goals, loves the Northeast, and signs a contract.  Maybe he comes here, hates it, and signs somewhere else in the offseason.  You just don't know when it comes to these things. 

But one think you do know is that it makes the Devils better.  With Brodeur's years coming to an inevitable end, the Devils definite shots at a Stanley Cup are getting smaller by the season.

There's seasons when you have to lay it all on the line, put all your chips in, and just man up and go for it.  This might be one of those seasons for New Jersey.


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