That was the first emotion that came to me as I found out the Atlanta Thrashers had traded all-star forward Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils as part of a five player deal. The Devils also received defenseman Anssi Salmela. Atlanta received rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first round pick in the 2010 draft. The two sides also agreed to swap 2010 second round picks.
Kovalchuk, in his eighth season, has 328 career goals and has never scored fewer than 41 goals in any year since the 2003-2004 season. He would’ve been the perfect fit for the up and coming Kings who as I write this are on an eight game winning streak and on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season.
For weeks, much of the hockey media had the Los Angeles Kings as one of the front-runners to land the all-star. After reading their name so often in various reports, part of me began to believe there was no way they couldn’t acquire him. Names that were mentioned as part of a potential Kovalchuk to the Kings deal included second year forward Wayne Simmonds, winger Alexander Frolov, defenseman Jack Johnson, number one goaltending prospect Jonathan Bernier and a draft pick.
Although all of them are solid young players for an overall young Kings team, I would’ve traded any of them to land a player of Kovalchuk’s status, if and only if I could have signed him to a contract extension. New Jersey gave up some nice players in the deal but have no guarantee Kovalchuk will remain with the team past July 1 when he will become an unrestricted free agent.
I know there are those who will say you have to go for broke when there is an opportunity to win and that past success does not guarantee future results. I would agree with you if the Kings were one piece away from having a realistic shot to hoist the Stanley Cup. Despite their recent string of success they are not at that level. What they are is a playoff team. Nothing more nothing less. Considering they haven’t been there since losing to Colorado in the first round in 2002 I think it’s a more than a great position to be in.
The Kings history has been one filled with failed short-term plans. Having learned from their past failures, Lombardi and the rest of management have installed a long-term plan in place and it’s working. This year is a shining example of that.
The Kings have drafted well, developed that talent and now it’s starting to come together. When they have traded, they’ve done so by acquiring proper talent at a fair price. I applaud Lombardi for knowing that no superstar is worth deviating from his plan. If he really wants Kovalchuk, he can make a run at him this summer through free agency when there is no addition by subtraction.
I am confident the Kings will be buyers before the trade deadline and that management will give this young team some help as they enter the postseason. I look for Lombardi to find some depth both up front and at the blue line. It seems as though he has made all the right moves planning for tomorrow. Kings fans should enjoy the ride down the stretch and into the postseason all the while knowing that tomorrow is on the verge of becoming today.