Good Cop, Bad Cop: Analysis of the Ilya Kovalchuk Trade

Doug GausepohlCorrespondent IFebruary 6, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 05:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils looks on against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on February 5, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There's certain events that happen throughout the course of your life in which you'll always remember where you were when you found out.  The terrorist attacks on September 11th, the shootings at Virginia Tech (to name some somber ones), and when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States (somber for some).

Those obviously all have higher precidence than a NHL trade.  But Kovalchuk is the type of talent that could make the moment we found out he was a New Jersey Devil unforgettable.

I'd hate to come on here and say this is an absolute win for the Devils (right now it is), but over the long-term it might not be. I don't know how I'll feel about this deal in three, two, or maybe even one year.  We all know quite well Kovalchuk might not still be here.

To break down this trade as subjectively as possible, I decided to do a "Good Cop, Bad Cop" exercise.  Obviously everyone is going to have their own opinion on the trade, so feel free to leave your comments.

Good Cop: Are you kidding? We got Ilya Kovalchuk!!

True.  Since 2001-2002 (his first season in the league) he's scored the most goals in the NHL.  Since the lockout year, he's scored the second most, behind the one and only Alexander Ovechkin. He's a deadly goal scorer, and judging from the game tonight, a very good passer.  Outside of Ovechkin and Crosby, you can make a case that Kovalchuk is the third best in the league.

Bad Cop: Rough to trade valuable assets for someone who may bail come July 1st.

I personally don't know if Kovalchuk will re-sign here.  I don't think Lou Lamoriello was thinking about that too much when he was trying to make this deal.  We all know Marty's time is dwindling down, and that the window for the Devils to win another Cup with Brodeur in net may end soon enough.  Although I hate hearing him being referred to as a "rental" (even though he is), because it seems to give bitter Rangers fans a rise to claim he's not ours officially for too long, he may very well be just that.

Good Cop: But we can resign him, right?

We definitely can. tells us our payroll will be 41.1 million dollars after all the expiring contracts come off the books July 1st.  That's 15.7 million dollars under the current salary cap.  Let's say we give Kovalchuk 10 million a year; that's still 5.7 to resign Paul Martin, or split it amongst whatever combination of Rob Niedermayer, Mike Mottau, Yann Danis, and Dean McAmmond you can think of. 

Bad Cop: We had to give up a promising Niclas Bergfors up in the deal.

I've liked Bergfors in spurts this year.  I wish him the best in Atlanta, and I think he has the potential to be a decent player in this league.  I think of all the parts in this deal that might come back to bite us in the you-know-what if Kovalchuk goes elsewhere, this is the one that will come back and bite us the hardest.

Good Cop: He was struggling, and we were lucky to get Kovalchuk with Bergfors' value so low.

Intriguing point.  As far fetched as it sounds, if Bergfors wasn't struggling so mightily just as the Devils were before tonight, Bergfors might still be a Devil, meaning Kovalchuk might still be a Thrasher, or on another team.  I'm sure the Thrashers in a way saw it as getting Bergfors at low value, hoping he can becoming a legitimate scoring threat.

Bad Cop: Johnny Oduya was one of our top defensemen.

Eh, I don't know about that.  He was last season, but he's been average at best this season.  Four points in 40 games, and a plus-2.  Those numbers can be replaced by Mark Fraser or even Anssi Salmela, the defenseman we got back in the deal. But I did like Oduya and always rooted for him, and he will definitely be missed.

Good Cop: We got a young, promising defenseman in Salmela back.

Yes, we did!  I feel like we had Salmela a decade ago, and it's only been about a year since we traded him for Niclas Havelid (ugh). Defensemen tend to shine in Jersey, and Salmela was having a solid year for Atlanta, a team who doesn't believe all that much in defensive hockey.  He's definitely a player I could see being useful in the defensive scheme of things.

Bad Cop: Patrice Cormier was a promising prospect.

He certainly was and could be another part of this deal that might cause Devils fans to cringe in the coming years if Kovalchuk bolts.  Last year in the QMJHL he had 51 points in 54 games at the tender age of 19 and was the captain of Team Canada in the World Junior Championships.  Unfortunately for him, he was suspended for the rest of the QMJHL season and playoffs for a vicious elbow to the head of Mikael Tam.  Lou said himself this was the hardest part of the deal to agree to.

Good Cop: The Devils will get a higher second round draft pick, even though they gave up their 1st rounder.

Not too much of a big deal for the Devils giving up their first rounder in this deal.  The Devils are notoriously good drafters that can find gems in later rounds, and there's still time to make a trade to get that first round pick back if necessary. 

As you can see, there's different ways to view this trade.  It's hard to see this trade as anything but a fleece in Jersey's favor right now, but it's also important to remember the Devils gave up some talented pieces for a player who might not be here after the year.  But the Devils are just so well-built, it almost doesn't seem to affect the depth at all.  Lou's been building his hand up for years, and finally went all in with it.  He came out of the hand with a royal flush, and a whole bunch of profit.


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