In a shocking move that came out of nowhere the New Jersey Devils have acquired goal-scoring winger Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers. The Russian forward has been in the league since 2001 and in that span he leads the NHL with 328 goals.
The complete trade was Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, and 1st round draft pick for Kovalchuk, Anssi Salmela and a swap of 2nd round draft picks.
Oduya will be missed, as he was a defenseman that many Devils supporters expected to be around for years to come. He has struggled to perform at his full potential this season though because of some nagging injuries. Bergfors has had an industrious yet inconsistent rookie season for New Jersey with most of his production coming on the powerplay. Cormier is a top junior prospect that has gotten himself into some trouble of late as he is suspended for the rest of the season following a dirty elbowing incident.
Kovalchuk becomes a free agent on July 1st unless the Devils reach a contract extension with the Russian, which is unlikely. Ilya just turned down a 12 year 101 million dollar offer from Atlanta and though that might have something to do with him wanting to play for a contender, it’s pretty obvious he wants to test the market to make top dollar at a location of his choice. And given the Devils history, General Manager Lou Lamoriello is unlikely to open up the wallet for a player who will want to be one of the highest paid players in the NHL.
So this is looking to set up as a four to five month rental. In that case the Devils didn’t necessarily rob the Thrashers, as many are stating. But a Stanley Cup Championship would obviously easily help Devils fans forget the potential in the players that were dealt away.
Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello obviously felt it necessary to make a bold move to step up his team’s push for a Stanley Cup Championship. This deal is sure to spark a slumping Devils scoring attack and this is something Lamoriello has done successfully in the past.
The last time the New Jersey made such a blockbuster deal for a big time scorer it was 2000. The Devils traded for another Russian goal scoring winger Alexander Mogilny. Even though Mogilny didn’t make the initial impact many expected his presence contributed to a New Jersey Stanley Cup Championship.
Other big trades that had enormous impact on the Devils organization and Stanley Cup Championships also come to memory.
In 1995 New Jersey acquired Neal Broten and Shawn Chambers, who might not have had the name appeal, but more than helped get the job done with sufficient production on route to the lifting of the Devils first Stanley Cup. In 2002, New Jersey made a controversial trade when they dealt Jason Arnott and Randy McKay to Dallas for Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk. Arnott was a top line producer and McKay a grizzly veteran fan favorite. This trade didn’t pay immediate amends as the Devils lack of goals led to a first round exit, but Langenbrunner’s leadership and clutch goals were an enormous part of the Devils Stanley Cup Championship in the following season (02-03).
Kovalchuk is set to make his debut with New Jersey tonight at the Prudential Center against Toronto. Tomorrow he will get his first taste of the Devils-Rangers rivalry at Madison Square Garden, where he can anticipate a rude welcoming from the crowd.
This trade has also launched some speculation that a big time free flowing offense minded player like Kovalchuk doesn’t fit into the Devils scheme behind Jacques Lemaire. But a player with this much talent, and just a plain knack for scoring goals will most likely not only fit right in, but also help his teammates expand their offensive game.
It will be interesting to see where Devils coach Jacques Lemaire will line Kovalchuk up once New Jersey returns to full strength. Most fans are sure to want to see a line pairing Kovalchuk-Elias-Langenbrunner together.
One thing that is for certain is no matter where he takes the ice he is sure to be a positive contributor that has made the Devils a much deeper offensive team that is sure to be strong contenders to lift the Cup at season's end.