When the Ilya Kovalchuk trade happened, fans around the NHL sat in shock with one common thought:
"I’m sure [insert name of favorite team here] could have given up twice as much for Kovalchuk."
You know what? Those who are thinking that are probably right: The immense talent of Kovalchuk is worth far more than Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, a first- round pick, and a second-round pick.
That’s not to discount any of them, but for a point-a-game player on a team that’s made it to the postseason just once in his tenure, you’d need to get the moon and the stars back.
Despite the rather light package though, Don Waddell didn’t necessarily get swindled. Namely, because he may not be done.
Now let’s start with Kovalchuk. There was simply no way that Waddell was going to hold on to him. He had thrown contract offer after contract offer at the Russian sniper, and each was rejected. Kovalchuk had gotten longer terms and shorter terms and increasing amounts of money, but he wouldn’t agree.
Which was strange considering that he was steadfast in wanting to stay in/near Atlanta.
Side note: Remember the Keith Tkachuk trade a few years ago, when Atlanta gave up Glen Metropolit, a first and third in 2007, and a second in 2008? They then traded his rights back to St. Louis for a first-rounder before free agency, essentially losing a player and two picks in the process.
Well, if we were interested in starting the conspiracy theory machine back up, we could assume that Waddell got so little because of a backdoor handshake agreement that would see Kovalchuk come back to Atlanta in the offseason. I mean, that would make the whole “I-like-Atlanta-but-I’m-not-signing” thing make sense, right?
That’s just crazy, though. Ignore that thought. As far as we, the general public, are led to believe, there’s no seedy underbelly to sports.
But because of that (and the public dismissals of Waddell’s offers), there’s no telling what the market was actually like for Kovalchuk. The fact that he wanted out and really wasn’t considering any other options put Waddell at the mercy of the teams offering up for Kovalchuk’s services.
That, and with what Kovalchuk was commanding contract-wise, Waddell hit the nail on the head as far as building a team goes:
“We would have jeopardized our ability to build a competitive team around him and retain our other young players as they became eligible for new contracts in the seasons ahead.”
Remember, this team also has to sign Bryan Little, Evander Kane, Jeremy Morin, Tobias Enstrom, and Zach Bogosian long term, and a $10-million-per-year player doesn’t make building for the future easy.
So sometimes, you take what you can get.
And in all fairness to the players involved: Bergfors has had a good rookie season with the potential to be a solid NHL producer, and Oduya has developed into a good defenseman with offensive potential and the ability to log 20 minutes a night—while Cormier’s career will depend on how he bounces back from his season-ending QMJHL suspension.
Depending on how New Jersey finishes this year, the Thrashers may have also simply added the equivalent of a second-round pick while moving down the ladder in swapping second-rounders with New Jersey.
As has been made perfectly clear already, there’s still another week until the NHL roster freeze comes into effect—and just under a month until the NHL trade deadline.
Following this blockbuster, Waddell now holds the rights of five top-four-worthy defensemen.
To go along with Oduya, Bogosian, and Enstrom, Pavel Kubina and Ron Hainsey are clogging up Atlanta’s blueline as well, while the playoff races in both conferences are looking for defensive help.
Now as far as names that are off the market go, we can assume that the newly acquired Oduya isn’t going anywhere, with two years left on his current contract. In addition, Bogosian and Enstrom are untouchable, and finding a suitor for Hainsey (who has three years left at a $4.5 million cap hit) may be difficult, but not impossible.
That leaves free-agent-to-be Kubina.
For a team that’s looking for offensive help from the blueline and a defender with size, Kubina could be the ideal acquisition.
On pace for 40 points and second among Thrashers’ defenders with a plus-seven rating—as well as being able to play both the power play and the penalty kill—Kubina can offer up a bunch of options to his new team.
The reason that he had been so unmovable for the Toronto Maple Leafs the past few seasons is eliminated as well, as following this year, Kubina hits the open market and can be had for a fraction of the four-year, $20 million deal he once signed with the Leafs.
If Waddell isn’t content with the return he got from the Kovalchuk trade—or he just wants to continue selling assets—then Kubina could get him that return.
After all, the teams that miss out on Sheldon Souray and (potentially) Scott Niedermayer are going to need a fall-back option.
There’s no telling what Kubina’s worth could be if he were moved, but chances are that Atlanta could add another second-round pick to the mix and an NHL-ready player.
And for a team now missing a franchise player, any assets are good assets.
Bryan is a Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. You can e-mail him (firstname.lastname@example.org), Tweet with him (BT_88 ), or contact him through his profile. Also, check out his previous work in his archives and at Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game!