Kovalchuk dealt to New Jersey in sad, expected ending

Here's Ilya Kovalchuk going against New Jersey defenseman Johnny Oduya. Just switch the uniforms now.

Here's Ilya Kovalchuk going against the Devils' Johnny Oduya. Just switch the uniforms now.

This is generally how these things end. A star goes one way. A large package of some undetermined substance and quality goes the other.

This isn’t a new practice with the Thrashers, just an evolving one. The names keep getting bigger. Dealing Ray Ferraro and Jiri Slegr in the early days came with limited blowback. They were late in their careers. But then another impending free agent, Donald Audette,  couldn’t come to terms and was traded to Montreal for an obscure prospect named Kamil Piros. (Unfortunate early analysis from then-coach Curt Fraser:  “The greatest player in Czechoslovakia.”). Then Marian Hossa wouldn’t re-sign and was dealt to Pittsburgh.

Now it’s Ilya Kovalchuk’s turn.

This isn’t just a trend any more. It’s a disturbing franchise trait, with no sign of change in sight.

Kovalchuk was traded Thursday night to New Jersey. His exit was predictable since last season, when the team struggled (again), failed to amend for past mistakes (again), failed to accurately gauge the market (again) and in the end was forced to desperately deal him for another questionable package of players and prospects. It’s a nice trade-up for Kovalchuk. He goes from a franchise that has never won a playoff game to one that has won three Stanley Cups, four conference championships and nine division titles since 1994-95.

Lou Lamoriello, the Devils’ general manager, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Don Waddell? He has been the architect of disaster central in Atlanta since Day 1. Anybody want to venture how this one turns out?

“I don’t think it sets us back at all,” Waddell said after the deal. “I think it moves us forward.”

Yes. He really said that.

It’s another quantity-for-quality trade. That’s the way these things work. The Devils get Kovalchuk, Atlanta’s all-time leading scorer (328 goals, 615 points, in 594 games) and defenseman Anssi Salmela. The Thrashers get right wing Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, troubled prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round draft pick. The teams also will swap second-round draft picks.

Bergfors? A nice young player, hardly a star (27 points in 54 games). Oduya? A solid puck-moving defenseman. Cormier? A train wreck. He elbowed a player in the Quebec juniors, sending himto the hospital, and has been suspended for the season. The No. 1 pick? Maybe this one works out. And stays.

At least Waddell didn’t slam Kovalchuk going out the door. He was given a chance to say Kovalchuk only cares about money. Instead, he reiterated what Kovalchuk has been saying all along (the screams of short-sighted critics notwithstanding): “I think, Kovy right to the last day, wanted to be a Thrasher. But it’s a business decision.”

Waddell knew he would get slammed for this. Earlier Thursday, in hopes of swaying public opinion, he released a statement including some of the team’s contract offers to Kovalchuk. But the offers — $70 million over seven years ($10 million per year) and $101 million for 12 years ($8.42 average) — already had appeared in Wednesday’s Journal-Constitution. So his intended thunder was muted.

It never should have come to this. Kovalchuk is one of the NHL’s few elite players and has been since he entered the league in 2001. He’s on pace to score 40-plus goals for the sixth consecutive season. That’s a rare commodity in the NHL. But he has been frustrated by the team’s lack of success. The Thrashers have reached the postseason once. Attendance has declined. Concern over the club’s future fed into Kovalchuk’s desire to ask for the maximum salary allowed by the collective bargaining agreement: $11.3 million per season for 10 to 12 years. He asked for the only thing he felt he could control, and he had the leverage of unrestricted free agency. Unless he immediately signs an extension with the Devils, Kovalchuk will become the highest-profile unrestricted free agent in his prime in NHL history.

It’s another ugly ending. Two years ago, it was Hossa. He went to Pittsburgh, and the Thrashers celebrated the package they got back. But look at it now: Colby Armstrong (third-line winger, impending free agent), Erik Christensen (washed out), Angelo Esposito (flawed prospect) a No. 1 pick (Daultan Leveille, Michigan State).

Maybe this deal turns out better. But history tells us otherwise. Another star was just shipped out of town. This is where we came in.

453 comments Add your comment

@DanWeiner

February 4th, 2010
8:27 pm

“Maybe one day this trend of the Thrashers trading their best player will end.”

Yeah, when they move out of Atlanta.

JTK

February 4th, 2010
8:27 pm

This is the end of hockey in Atlanta. I, for one, will not go to another game as long as bumbling Don is running the team. What a disgrace!

Brandon from Warner Robins

February 4th, 2010
8:28 pm

Now I know how Pirates fans feel….

Reid Adair

February 4th, 2010
8:29 pm

Well, I hope the owners are happy with their quantity – because they just traded away the bulk of their team’s quality.

What a sad, sad day.

skydawg

February 4th, 2010
8:30 pm

I am officially done with the Thrashers…make it the Atlanta Spirit Group et al.

Buzz

February 4th, 2010
8:31 pm

No one will ever score more goals faster as a Thrasher. Bank it.

sisu

February 4th, 2010
8:31 pm

insult to injury, we traded Salmela and also got a guy who is suspended for the rest of the season for an elbow to the head!

Steve

February 4th, 2010
8:33 pm

Ain’t no way the Devils will sign him long term.
Plus, he will NOT fit into their system.

Not sure about the players they picked up though.

GaVaHokie

February 4th, 2010
8:35 pm

Wouldn’t be surprised if we trade that NJ 1st round pick in the next couple of days… maybe Toronto for Ponikarovsky?

Would still like to get Peter Mueller out of Phoenix.

TaxDawg

February 4th, 2010
8:35 pm

Is there a way to trade Waddell for draft picks and a General manager to be named later?

EP

February 4th, 2010
8:37 pm

First the Flames and soon to be the Thrashers. I’m just sad.

GaVaHokie

February 4th, 2010
8:37 pm

By trading Kovy to NJ, we can almost guarantee he’ll be available this summer. He’s not going to fit, they can’t afford him and, well, it’s New Jersey.

Nothing will be different this summer… Atlanta will still be one of the few teams able to give Kovy mega-money.

CobbThrasher

February 4th, 2010
8:37 pm

They picked up players in this trade? Oh, you must mean that 1st round draft pick that will be brought up when this team is long gone from Atlanta.

Devon

February 4th, 2010
8:38 pm

This is yet a further example of why Ownership “Groups” don’t work and why our GM is a bumbling buffoon. Atlanta AGAIN gets the shaft and we get told to “be hopeful for the future”… I’m tired of waiting for the future because its simply MORE OF THE SAME!!! Heatley, Hossa, Kovalchuk… FIRE DON WADELL, FIRE DON WADELL, FIRE DON WADELL!!!

George Holman

February 4th, 2010
8:38 pm

What's the plan?

February 4th, 2010
8:38 pm

Can’t Waddell at least stop trading our stars to Eastern teams?

Want My Floor Seats?

February 4th, 2010
8:38 pm

Everyone else around the country thinks Kovy was INSANE to reject $101 Million to stay in ATL…Schultz only finds fault with Waddell and the Thrashers…Go figure!

I say if you offer a friggin Russian immigrant $101 Million and he holds a gun to your head and says, “NO…I WANT ALL OF IT!”, then you’re better off as a franchise getting anyone and everyone you can for him…

willie

February 4th, 2010
8:38 pm

This confirms my fears that the Spirit group is in trouble financially. Joe Johnson will be the next star to go. What a shame. Atlanta deserves more.

Andrew

February 4th, 2010
8:39 pm

Andrew

February 4th, 2010
8:39 pm

WTF

February 4th, 2010
8:39 pm

Waddell has marked the end of NHL hockey in Atlanta. But maybe the blame lies with the inept ownership who do not care about hockey fans. I was here when the Flames left so history will repeat itself. Wow – this really sucks.

CormierToo?

February 4th, 2010
8:41 pm

Why would we want a kid like Cormier. Wasn’t he suspended indefinitely for that nasty elbow he threw on Mikael Tam?

Don Waddell

February 4th, 2010
8:41 pm

<——Frank Wren's best friend! Happy Valentines Day Frankie!

Tincup9

February 4th, 2010
8:41 pm

quantity vs quality – this sucks

Sean Grace

February 4th, 2010
8:42 pm

I am sickened by the mediocre talent we got in return for an A tier superstar. The “timely” statement by Waddell defending his position was embarrassing. Getting punched in the gut would leave me feeling better than I feel right now. We just acquired an underachieving D-man, a third liner and some jackass who almost killed someone with an elbow for a superstar Captain. I’m done, goodbye.

tale of woe

February 4th, 2010
8:42 pm

Like I said earlier today. I don’t mind that Kovy is gone, but Waddell never gets fair trade value. Another disaster. Nothing about this trade makes me want to go see a game, watch a game, read about the Thrashers, buy anything Thrasher related. Sad

Want My Floor Seats?

February 4th, 2010
8:42 pm

willie, where you been? Joe Johnson said BEFORE the season even started he wouldn’t be back next year…..Guess Schultz will blame THAT one on Sund and the ASG too!

Bye To The Third One

February 4th, 2010
8:46 pm

So for the third time a true All Star has run screaming from Atlanta as fast as possible. Don continues to say that ownership gives him the ability to do whatever he wants; that means one of two things: (a) he’s a complete liar and ownership restricts him; or (b) he is the most incompetent GM ever to run a hockey team. Not sure which it is, but either way something has to change or Blue Land will be history.

Greg

February 4th, 2010
8:46 pm

Right in there with the Pirates and the Falcons. All three too cheapskate to rise to the top, I’m very sorry to say. It take real business acumen to run a professional team and achieve success. Atlanta has not been able to attract it.

Matt

February 4th, 2010
8:46 pm

ASG and DW, you may commence spinning…NOW. Tools, boneheads.

Pittsburgh Pirates, LA Clippers, Detroit Lions ALL > Thrashers.

BTW, Donnie, nice payback to Ilya by sending him to Neutral Zone Trap hell and Jacques Lemaire. Ilya is just gonna LOVE that system. Not.

tale of woe

February 4th, 2010
8:47 pm

I agree with Schultz – good franchises figure out how to keep their good players. I am not a huge Kovy fan, but there are not many dynamic scorers like him in the NHL. You eventually have to learn to pay these guys to hopefully attract other stars. Waddell gets no one who is going to make the team better. The 4 players (one TBD) will never be worth what Kovy was to the franchise. This is sad that in a city like Atlanta we have an ownership/GM group that doesn’t care about the sport, the city, the fans, and the players…

Radarwatcherr

February 4th, 2010
8:47 pm

I agree with all that has been said above about the Thrashers management, but it is also us the fans who are not helping matters. Why would you want to play in Atlanta that for the most part cares nothing about hockey and puts 7500 fans in the seats and a third of them root for the other team? How boring. I think it would be better to be the king in a bog hockey town, he will get the money for sure…

jim

February 4th, 2010
8:47 pm

That’s it. After 6 years as a transplant from DC (Caps season ticket holder) I’m officially done buying Thrashers tix. While Waddell is in charge my family will not be at Philips. What an awfully run organization.

Jim

February 4th, 2010
8:48 pm

I’m done. No more Thrashers this year. Sick of our best players and fan favorites leaving or being traded.

Wayne stuck in AL

February 4th, 2010
8:48 pm

For what we get back, this trade is about as bad as what the Braves got back in the Dale Murphy trade (the players acquired never played another MLB game after that season)…

angry

February 4th, 2010
8:48 pm

is waddel an alcoholic??? seriously. ive been a fan since day one. i WILL NOT attend another game until fumbling donny dip stick is gone.

willie

February 4th, 2010
8:48 pm

Joe turned down a 4-year $60 million extension before the season but that does not mean he will leave. He will just want a longer deal. One thing is for sure…he certainly won’t stay for a discount. If they aren’t going to re-sign him (and I think they should), then they should trade him before the deadline. We aren’t good enough to win it all this year anyway.

bigdawg

February 4th, 2010
8:49 pm

Ilya, thanks for putting up with sub-standard management here in Atlanta for all these years. We knowledgable hockey fans know you are one of the top 10 players in the world. Too bad you were saddled with one of the bottom 10 ownership groups in the world. Good luck in N.J., and know that I’ve been to my last Thrashers game, which is too bad b/c I went to the first Flames game, the Knight’s championship-clinching game, and the first Thrashers playoff game two year ago. Go Gladiators!!

PMC

February 4th, 2010
8:49 pm

Well he should feel right at home in the hell that is the meadowlands.

Zach

February 4th, 2010
8:50 pm

Jeff,

I just have one question. Why do we still have Don Wadell as the thrasher’s general manager?

Alex

February 4th, 2010
8:50 pm

I think I’m finally done spending my money on the Thrash as long as Teflon Don is running the show. Yes, Kovy’s demands to stay in ATL were somewhat absurd, but the reason they got that high is because he’s run this franchise into the ground. There’s been two constants in the 10-year history of the Thrashers – failure and Waddell.

Lee

February 4th, 2010
8:50 pm

Phillips Arena should be EMPTY for a while……I plan on going to the Panthers game, but I think I’ll be the only one there.

Donnie W Blows

February 4th, 2010
8:50 pm

Quantity over quality bespeaks the poorly managed half-assed no vision, no committement ownership and management this team has. This ain’t the ECHL Donnie, they are up the road in Gwinnett. For the love of God, fire Waddell, and sell the freakin team to an owner (not owners as in Atl Spirit clown posse) who cares and pray it is someone who will keep the team in ATL. Bettman is a fool but he needs to step in now to broker a deal as he did in Tampa becasue this franchise is next to fail – not because of players and fans, but due to the gross incompetence of the GM and owners.

Jimbo

February 4th, 2010
8:51 pm

Anybody have a line on Bergfors or Cormier? Would like to know more about them.

bob

February 4th, 2010
8:51 pm

The Spirit group has done a great job of weening off sports. Are any of you a decendant of Rankin Smith?

bigdawg

February 4th, 2010
8:52 pm

I thought we had our Trottier, Bossy and Chico Reche (sp?) when we had Heatley, Kovy and Kari. I thought we’d ascend just like the Islanders in the early 80’s. But, Waddell and the other dolts who make up ASG let Heatley go, let Marc Savard go, let Donald Audette go, and now Kovy. It just makes me sick!!!

PMC

February 4th, 2010
8:52 pm

Thrashers got absolutely completely totally hosed on this. Just like always.

It is unbelievable how much of an epic failure this franchise is.

Hotrod

February 4th, 2010
8:52 pm

Good luck Kovy. You were awesome here.

Homer

February 4th, 2010
8:55 pm

Atlanta does not diserve an NHL franchise!

Tincup9

February 4th, 2010
8:55 pm

according to TSN.ca – the trade was contingent upon Waddell washing Lou’s car and picking up his dry cleaning