Frustration, anger, disappointment. Atlanta Thrasher fans can rightfully feel all of these emotions with the departure of their long-time superstar Ilya Kovalchuk.
It is difficult to lose two all-star players, Kovalchuk and Hossa, especially in the span of three years.
I know the feeling. Being a die-hard Pittsburgh fan I had to watch the Penguins deal away the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev, Darius Kasparatis, Robert Lang, and Marty Straka (for virtually nothing in return, mind you) for financial reasons during the early part of the 21st century.
When you see a player who you have watched grow into an elite athlete traded away from the team you love it is difficult to swallow. As I stated above, Thrasher fans should be upset and angry...just not with Don Waddell, at least not on this particular deal (Waddell's success as Atlanta's GM, overall, is certainly open for debate).
The truth of the matter, whether Thrasher fans want to believe it or not, is Kovalchuk did not want to remain in Atlanta (neither did Hossa, but we are not here to discuss that trade). He made that abundantly clear, although he publicly stated otherwise, when he continually turned down several reasonable contract offers from the organization (12 years $101 million, seven years $70 million, etc.).
Kovalchuk publicly preached his desire to stay in Atlanta, but since his asking price, according to his agent Jay Grossman, was the 20 percent cap maximum that a team is allowed to invest in an individual player under the current CBA, he was clearly blowing smoke as to not look like a villain to the fans in Blue land.
If he honestly is looking for a max contract, he might as well head to the KHL because he will never see it from an NHL team in free agency.
Waddell was in a no win situation. He garnered the best package he possibly could, dealing from a position of weakness. Some may ask how the GM with the most desirable asset on the market is dealing with the least amount of leverage. Well, let us breakdown the situation:
1) All other 29 GMs know that Waddell has to trade Kovalchuk or risk losing him for virtually nothing in return (Florida Panthers/Jay Boumeester, circa 2009). This fact is certainly not lost on Waddell's peers, and gives them the upper hand in trade discussions.
2) Ilya was adamant that he was going to test the free agent waters, which he has every right to do, but since a team could not make a contract extension a contingency to an agreed upon trade this lowers Kovalchuk's value in many team's eyes.
If he is simply a rental then the compensation coming Atlanta's way will not be as substantial as it would be if a team was assured of keeping him in the fold for the long term.
These two factors had to be a major hindrance to Don Waddell's negotiating power. Considering this, I believe Waddell captured a solid return for his star winger (the Devils also got back defenseman Anssi Samlema, who they traded to the Thrashers last season).
Johnny Oduya is a solid puck-moving defenseman who is locked up for the next three seasons at a reasonable cap hit of $3 million per year. He will also, undoubtedly, help with the development of all-star in waiting, Zach Bogosian.
Nicklas Bergfors is a young and talented winger who should level out to at least a 20-25 goal a year winger. He has solid numbers on the power play, and should increase his production and speed up his development with increased ice time.
Patrice Cormier, bone-headed incident aside (he is suspended from the QMJHL for the rest of the season and playoffs for viciously elbowing defenseman Mikael Tam), is a strong pro prospect with future leadership potential (he was the captain of team Canada in this year's World Junior Championships).
Finally, Waddell grabbed New Jersey's first round draft pick for 2010 (the teams also swapped second round picks). Atlanta will now have two first round draft choices in the upcoming draft with which they can grab two high-end prospects, or possibly package those picks to move up into the earlier portion of the first round, or even dangle one of the first round selections as trade bait.
The fact that they are not resigning Kovy also frees up cap space for the Thrashers to delve into free agency and spread some dollars around to try and add more pieces to the team which is, even without a true superstar, moving in a positive direction.
It takes a team to win championships, not individual talent. The Thrashers have some nice pieces moving forward with Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Ondrej Pavelec, Rich Peverley, Bryan Little, and Nik Antropov.
This franchise has yet to see its best days, and when the good times do come a lot of currently disgruntled fans may look back at this trade as part of the turn around. Here is to hoping that is the case.
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