The Forgotten Man In the Kovalchuk Trade

Claire AntiochContributor INovember 9, 2016

There's a lot to like about the Ilya Kovalchuk trade for the New Jersey Devils.

They not only picked up a 40-goal (and sometimes 50-goal) scorer to make a strong push for the Stanley Cup for a relatively small price, they also swapped second-round pick, which could help make up for the loss of their first-round pick. Depending on how the two teams finish, the difference between New Jersey's first-round selection and Atlanta's second-round selection could be minimal.

Another positive aspect? The possibility of Anssi Salmela -- the "throw-in" going to New Jersey -- stepping into the Devils' lineup and filling the gap left by Johnny Oduya, one of the key players sent to Atlanta in Thursday's blockbuster trade.

A 25-year-old puck-moving defenseman, Salmela was originally signed by the Devils as an undrafted free agent and was eventually traded to Atlanta at last year's trade deadline for defenseman Niclas Havelid. In 29 games with the Thrashers this season he spent most of his time playing as a bottom-pairing defenseman (Atlanta's top-four is quite formidable with Pavel Kubina, Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom and Ron Hainsey), logging just over 13 minutes of ice-time per game. Now he's heading to New Jersey, and oddly enough, will get an opportunity to play a much larger role.

In his first two games with the Devils he's recorded over 18 minutes of ice-time in each game, already more than he played in any single game with the Thrashers.

Oduya is a steady defenseman. Nothing flashy, but he's rarely out of position and plays a solid game. But there's yet another factor at work here: Salmela's cap hit for next season is approximately $3 million cheaper than Oduya's, which could help create some additional room to re-sign defenseman Paul Martin. I don't doubt that Oduya's a better defenseman than Salmela at this point, but is he that much better that Salmela can't step in and not miss all that much for the Devils? I'm not buying it, and I agree with what Chris Botta said in the wake of this trade: "If Kovalchuk resides in New Jersey for only a few months and his team fails to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, the Devils may not win this trade -- but they will never lose it." And this is just another reason why.