February 04, 2010
Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell spoke about the Ilya Kovalchuk trade on Thursday night, attempting to walk a tightrope between claiming the team could still contend for a playoff slot and trumpeting the fact that, financially, the deal was an essential move for what they're "building" in Atlanta.
Not rebuilding, even though three of the assets coming from the Devils along with defenseman Johnny Oduya(notes) can be considered "prospective": rookie forward Niclas Bergfors(notes), suspended juniors forward Patrice Cormier(notes) and the team's 2010 first-round pick.
No rebuilding; just ... building.
A few of the highlights:
• The Devils got into the Kovalchuk Derby late. We speculated that Waddell had been scouting both teams when he attended the Los Angeles Kings' game in Newark against the Devils last Sunday. But New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello only contacted Waddell after that visit, and then remained persistent throughout the week.
Oduya and Bergfors appear to have been in the mix for most of the negotiation. Waddell said the Devils "separated themselves" from other offers when Lamoriello, after some resistance, put Cormier in the deal on Thursday.
Reading between the lines, two factors that played a huge role in this deal. The first is that the Devils' offer didn't contain any toxic contracts coming back to the Thrashers in order to make the numbers work, which appeared to have sunk some other offers.
The second is Lamoriello himself. There appears to be a comfort level here for Waddell, both in having dealt with Lou last deadline (for defenseman Anssi Salmela(notes), who went back to Jersey in the Kovalchuk deal) and in acquiring players nurtured in the Devils system. This is an enormous trade. Waddell didn't want to get played by a peer. Whether or not you think the Thrashers won or lost the trade, they did get some value back for Kovalchuk here.
• Waddell said there was another team in the mix until the end from the Western Conference, but that it didn't have the "assets" the Devils were offering.
• On revealing the contract numbers between the Thrashers and Kovalchuk in a controversial move earlier on Thursday, Waddell said it was done for the fans' sake: "I think it was important for our fans to hear. I had some great support from our ownership, and sometimes our ownership gets questioned. To me, I wanted to show that we had ownership's support [financially]. That we did try to sign him."
• Kovalchuk's contract would have been "right around the cap" maximum, which Waddell said would be $11.350 million annually for the player.
• Waddell said Kovalchuk wasn't concerned about the future of the franchise in his decision: "I don't think so. If we would have paid him the max amount, he would have signed the contract."
• Clearly, the company line here is that signing Kovalchuk at his demands would have crippled the team's ability to build around him and to retain young players like Evander Kane(notes) and Zach Bogosian(notes) when they became free agents. "We haven't won a playoff game yet," said Waddell. "We need to build this team with that in mind. If you pay one player the cap amount, it really ties your hands."
• All that being said (thank you, Larry David), Waddell inched the door open when asked if Kovalchuk and the Thrashers would just pull the 'ol Tkachuk move and have him re-sign in the summer: "We'll always look at those free agents that are available on July 1. We have a great history, know the player well."
So that's Waddell.
As for the friendly neighborhood Devils fan authoring this post, two thoughts about the trade:
1. I've seen a lot of discussion around the Web that this trade "means it's Cup or bust for the Devils!" To that I say: When isn't it? As well as: Wasn't that obvious?
Lamoriello has been telegraphing a last, big run at Stanley before both he and Martin Brodeur(notes) are too old for this crap. It was there when he signed Brian Rolston(notes) as a free agent. It was there when he brought Brendan Shanahan(notes) back for last year's run. It was there when he dialed up Jacques Lemaire to return to the bench when Brent Sutter went to Calgary.
It's win now, and it's clearly win at all costs.
Did the Devils give up too much? Oduya hasn't been the same player under Lemaire and under that new contract, but he's still a solid defenseman on what I see as a thin blue line in Jersey. Bergfors percolated in the Devils system since 2006, had a solid first half and then hit the wall this season. He has the unmistakable aroma of enigma. Cormier ... despite the foibles, I had hopes for him in a Devils uniform and so did Lamoriello, I imagine. But you have to give to get.
Bottom line: Oduya is expendable (and frees up cap space); the other three assets are "maybes" for what is, without question, a sure thing barring injury.
2. Kovalchuk is the most talented offensive player the Devils have ever had on the roster. He exponentially increases their offensive depth when Patrik Elias(notes) and David Clarkson(notes) are healthy. And if their power play is still a decent 19-percent clip in two months instead of top 6, I'd be stunned.
"The reason we got Alex Mogilny at that time [in 2000] was for similar reasons: what he could bring offensively with the shot he had and he could do almost individually at times, but still be a team player," Lamoriello said. "I feel that Iyla can bring that sort of explosiveness and also I really believe strongly that he wants to win and he will fit in."
Lamoriello said he spoke to Kovalchuk tonight and he was thrilled with the trade.
"He was as excited as I would have wanted him to be," Lamoriello said. "I didn't know what to expect, but I was really pleased after I had the opportunity to speak to him."
Can they sign him long-term? Who knows, and who knows if Kovalchuk wants to bring his family to Jersey. But that's a July question; the only concern for Kovalchuk and the Devils is what happens in June.
As a trade for the moment, it's a spectacular one for New Jersey. And Devils fans are ready; or at least Mark P. is, with his DIY Kovy sweater: