Ilya Kovalchuk: Was He Worth the Price New Jersey Devils Paid?

Mark RitterSenior Writer ISeptember 14, 2010

How much did the New Jersey Devils really pat for their golden boy—Ilya Kovalchuk???
How much did the New Jersey Devils really pat for their golden boy—Ilya Kovalchuk???Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

On February 4th, 2010, the New Jersey Devils made a huge splash on the trade market when they acquired Ilya Kovalchuk and Anssi Salmela from the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for defenseman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier (drafted 54th overall, 2008), and New Jersey’s 2010 first-round draft pick.

Prior to the deal, the Thrashers organization was extremely diligent in trying to sign their franchise player to a long-term contract and were said to have offered the Russian sniper a 12-year contract that would have seen Kovalchuk earn a reported $101 million.

Unable to sign Kovalchuk, Thrashers general manager Don Waddell made what many NHL experts said was a moderately good deal—a deal, that in hindsight, just keeps getting better.

How is it that trading your franchise player for a mid-tier defenseman, a rookie forward, a prospect, and a first-round draft choice a “good deal,” you might ask? Keep reading…

In order to answer the question, we must look at the bottom line—what did the Devils collectively give up for Kovalchuk?

For starters, the Devils gave up two decent roster players in Oduya and Bergfors. The addition of Cormier (a decent prospect), not to mention a first-round draft choice (traded to the Chicago Blackhawks to help facilitate the acquisition of Dustin Byfuglien)—is a pretty nice return regardless of the player going the other way.

Then you have to look at what the Thrashers didn’t get—a raw deal.

After a rather uneventful playoff with the Devils, Kovalchuk became a free agent. While many rumors speculated that Kovalchuk would sign with the Los Angeles Kings, he ended up signing a 17-year, $102 million contract with the Devils—a contract that would later be denied by the NHL due to the Devils’ attempt to circumvent the collective bargaining agreement.

Up next for the Devils? A lengthy re-negotiation with Kovalchuk that had the entire hockey world on hold until it finally met the NHL’s approval. The new deal would call for Kovalchuk to earn $100 million over 15 years.

In the process, the Devils ended up nearly $3 million over the salary cap, which means, ultimately, the Devils will have to shed another roster player from their team before the start of the 2010-11 season.

Which player will have to be moved is up in the air, but with nearly $3 million in salary to shed, one can presume it may very well be a player of consequence, which will hurt the Devils in the depth department.

And then there were the stiff penalties the NHL slapped the Devils organization with.

As a result of the circumvention, the Devils were subject to fines and/or loss of draft choices.  Yesterday, Gary Bettman and the NHL levied a fine of $3 million on the Devils to go along with the loss of the team's 2011 third-round draft choice and a first-rounder to be lost in one of the next four drafts at the Devils' discretion.

As bad as the penalties were, it could have been worse for the Devils, as the NHL could have taken away millions of dollars in cap space, which they had every right to do, but passed on.

So, in a nutshell, here is what Ilya Kovalchuk cost the Devils:

—Johnny Oduya
—Niclas Bergfors
—Patrice Cormier
—The Devils’ 2010 first-round draft choice
—$100 million
—A $3 million fine
—A third-round draft choice in 2011
—A first-round draft choice in 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014
—* The possibility of having to trade another roster player in order to get under the cap.
—* The bother of having to go through the contract process, arbitration hearings, and subsequent fines from the NHL.

If you ask me, the Devils paid a steep price for Kovalchuk—a price they may soon regret.

Need more proof?

The New Jersey Devils will enter the 2011-12 season with a total of $48,483,332 (numbers courtesy of capgeek.com) allocated to just 13 players. That leaves the Devils with just over $10 million with which to fill out their roster and with star forward Zach Parise set to become a restricted free agent (and in need of a big raise), the cost of adding Kovalchuk to the fold might just include having to turn their backs on Parise.

When you consider everything the Devils gave up, both short-term and long-term, it appears as if the Thrashers got a great deal for Kovalchuk, and the Devils got a handful of problems that will take a ton of creativity and/or a miracle to get out of.

Simply put, Kovalchuk, regardless of his scoring prowess and drawing power, was not worth the price.

Until next time,



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