The Atlanta Thrashers have once again bid farewell to their franchise forward. Like Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa before him, Ilya Kovalchuk was dealt for a package of players to the New Jersey Devils, who now look all the better as Stanley Cup contenders.
But y’all know the nuts and bolts by now, so let’s go digging in the crates for some of the lingering questions raised by this latest blockbuster trade.
Is Kovy a good fit in New Jersey? Yes, yes he is. True, Devils hockey is played best when the players follow a very specific system (which explains why the team brought back past Devils such as Brian Rolston two summers ago and Brendan Shanahan last summer, even though Shanny didn’t work out in the end), but let’s not forget there is precedent for GM Lou Lamoriello’s plucking of a top Russian sniper during the stretch drive of a season: Back in 2000, he nabbed Alex Mogilny from the Vancouver Canucks and the Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup, then returned to the final the year after.
Plus, I really get the sense Kovalchuk will flourish on a winner. Of course he was great in Atlanta, but there was only so far that team was going and he obviously knew it. But when Kovy has suited up for Russia at the World Championship, an extra level of fire has come over him. In fact, he’s been the hero in the past two gold medal games, both of which were Russian victories.
So imagine him on a team with Martin Brodeur in net and linemates like Zach Parise, Patrik Elias or Jamie Langenbrunner, not to mention a solid, workmanlike defense corps. It even gets me wondering if his hardball contract stipulations will melt somewhat.
Right now, Kovalchuk is technically a ‘rental’ for the Devs; as of now, he’s an unrestricted free agent come July 1. But with a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup not only this year, but at least next season as well (who knows how long Brodeur will play), maybe Kovalchuk signs a short-term deal in New Jersey, a la Marian Hossa in Detroit in 2008.
The option to make boatloads of tax-free cash back home in the Kontinental League will always be there. A Stanley Cup ring? The time is now.
Patrice Cormier, eh? As part of the package Atlanta GM Don Waddell procured for Kovalchuk, the prospect acquired was Cormier, he of the wanton elbow and no playing time in the foreseeable future.
What struck me as strange is that this is the second straight major deal Waddell has swung in which he took back a prospect with baggage. In the Hossa trade, it was Angelo Esposito. Once highly touted, Esposito was famous for being cut three times by Canada’s world junior team before finally making it on his last opportunity.
After notching four assists and no goals in 12 games for the American League’s Chicago Wolves, the 20-year-old center just underwent his second knee surgery and is done for the season.
Couldn’t Waddell have secured someone safer than Cormier, who will undoubtedly lose development time due to his season-ending suspension? What about Jacob Josefson or Mattias Tedenby? Matt Halischuk has already played NHL games for the Devils and is nearly a point-per-game player for AHL Lowell right now. Waddell couldn’t have twisted Sweet Lou’s arm for him? It’s Kovalchuk, for Pete’s sake!
Whither Atlanta? It’s got to be a sad day for Thrashers fans, because the future is bleak. Putting on my “happy hat,” here’s an optimistic take on the future of hockey in Atlanta: Ondrej Pavelec emerges as the No. 1 starter, allowing Waddell to trade either Kari Lehtonen or Johan Hedberg for some sort of return.
The Thrashers bottom out this season and get a top-3 draft pick who contributes to the team right away. Two years from now, Evander Kane becomes the face of the franchise, with Zach Bogosian and 2010 top-3 pick riding shotgun.
It’s not exactly the Sid and Geno show, but it’s something. And at this point, ‘something’ is all Thrashers fans can really hope for.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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