Kovalchuk traded to Devils

The Atlanta Thrashers traded superstar captain Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils in a five-player blockbuster late Thursday.

Ilya Kovalchuk's exhorbitant contract demands left Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell with the spectre of losing him later for nothing, and making a deal with the Devils.

Kovalchuk, 26, was traded late Thursday by the Thrashers to the New Jersey Devils with defenceman Anssi Salmela in return for defenceman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, junior prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round draft pick.

"This wasn't an easy deal to make," Waddell said. "Ilya Kovalchuk has been with us eight years.

"He has been the face of the franchise. Now we have to turn the page."

"He has hockey sense and he knows how to make other people around him better," Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello said of Kovalchuk, Atlanta's now former captain. "You can tell by the assists he gets.

"I am sure every one of you has seen him play. What he brings, he can do things a lot of people cannot do."

Waddell was forced to ship Kovalchuk elsewhere because he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and the superstar sniper's asking price to stay put was simply too high.

Kovalchuk spurned Atlanta's offers of $70 million over seven years and $101 million US over 12 years — pacts that Waddell considered historic in proportion — in the hope of landing a long-term deal worth $11 million annually.

Amid rumours that a trade was imminent, Waddell released a statement Thursday morning confirming the two sides had reached an impasse.

"We've spent several months exploring scenarios with Kovy and his agent to reach a mutually beneficial agreement and offered many lucrative packages," he said. "Unfortunately, we've reached an impasse."

Hours later, Waddell pulled the trigger on the trade.

"We excited that this makes our hockey club better," he said. "If you watch what's happened, we haven't had great success on the ice.

"It's not Ilya's fault. It's the team's fault. But we're excited about the future and moving forward."

Numbers Game

 Ilya Kovalchuk  49  31  27 58  45
 Anssi Salmela  29  1  4 5  22
 Niclas Bergfors  54  13  14 27  10
 Johnny Oduya  40  2  2 4  18


Kovalchuk, a perennial all-star and two-time 50-goal scorer, has posted 31 goals and 27 assists for 58 points in 49 games this season, his eighth in the NHL.

Drafted first overall by Atlanta in 2001, the Russian Olympian has totalled 328 goals and 615 points — all franchise records.

"We felt Kovalchuk was a player who could come and fill the need that we felt we had for an explosive scorer, and someone who could add a different dimension to our power play with the type of shot," Lamoriello said. "Then it was just the case of trying to make it work somehow where we could not sacrifice tomorrow."

Salmela is essentially returned to the Devils, who traded him to Atlanta for defenceman Niclas Havelid and forward Myles Stoesz last March 2.

The 25-year-old Finn has one goal and five points in 29 games this season.

'A big goal scorer'

Oduya, 28, has two goals and four points in 40 games this season. He was injured for five weeks and missed 15 games.

The seasoned pro ranked second on the Devils in ice time this season, averaging a little over 21 minutes per outing.

Bergfors, 22, ranks fifth in rookie scoring this season with 27 points, including 13 goals.

The Swedish forward was drafted 23rd overall by the Devils in 2005.

"We're excited in acquiring Johnny Oduya," Waddell said. "He's a Top 4 defenceman and will play in the Olympics with Sweden.

"Niclas Bergors is in his first year and has 13 goals. Potentially, he could be a big goal scorer."

Cormier, a teenage prospect with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, recently garnered headlines for a vicious elbow that earned him a suspension for the remainder of the QMJHL season.

A highly regarded forward, the Moncton native was captain of the Canadian national team that won the silver medal last month at the world junior championship in Saskatoon.

New Jersey drafted him in the second round (54th overall) in 2008.

With files from The Canadian Press