The Ilya Kovalchuk Trade: One Year Later

One year ago from today, the Devils traded Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, their 2010 first round draft pick and their 2010 second round draft pick to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ilya Kovalchuk, Anssi Salmela and the Thrashers' 2010 second round draft pick. After that, everyone knows the story- The Devils went to the first round and got ousted by the Flyers, and the Thrashers missed the playoffs. Then afterwards, there was the whole saga with the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk, first the 17 year contract and it's rejection, then the 15 year contract, then the horrible season Kovalchuk is having (Thanks alot, MacLean!). A year later, most people think that the Devils lost the Ilya Kovalchuk trade because of the terrible season (Again, thanks alot MacLean!) Kovalchuk and the Devils are having, and the fact that the Thrashers are having a good season. With this in mind, many pundits and bloggers are looking back at the trade and claiming Atlanta has won because of the Thrashers being able to succeed without Kovalchuk, and Kovalchuk "dragging" the Devils down (when all signs point to MacLean being the root cause of all the problems). I'm going to look at the trade myself, to see if the Thrashers won, the Devils won or if it's too early to say who won.

First off, lets look at the players involved in the trade since the trade, and their stats

Player

GP

Goals

Assists

Points

Shooting %

Ilya Kovalchuk (reg. Season)

77

25

33

58

9.8%

Ilya Kovalchuk (Playoffs)

5

2

4

6

10.5%

Anssi Salmela

26

1

4

5

2.7%

Niclas Bergfors

70

18

27

45

10.8%

Johnny Oduya

81

3

20

23

3.4%

Patrice Cormier(NHL)

16

1

1

2

5.6%

Patrice Cormier (AHL)

11

2

3

5

13.3%

 

First and Foremost, i'll look at Ilya Kovalchuk, the biggest component of the trade. Over the year, Kovalchuk's played about a full season's worth of hockey. For someone like Kovalchuk, yes, 25 goals and 68 points is pretty underwhelming seeing as he's scored at least 40 goals in the last six seasons. Over an 82 game season, that would be about 27 goals, 35 assists and 72 points. If you look at his stats from the end of the 2009-2010 season (10-17-27 in 27 GP), he would've been on pace for about 30-52-82 in an 82 game season, assuming if he was able to stay healthy/avoid suspensions/not getting benched by incompetent head coaches. While 30 goals might be his 2nd lowest career total in goals, his 52 assists would be a career high and he'd have a point-per-game average, which is a bit lower than his career points per game (673 points in 671 games, or 1.002 PPG).

Looking at Kovalchuk's stat line this season (15-16-31 in 50 GP), he'd be on pace to have a stat line of 24-26-50 over 81 games (counting the game where he was scratched /shakes fist at MacLame for the Nth time), the lowest of his career. If you ignore John MacLame's reign as head coach and his vampiric ability to suck the talent out of any hockey player (for those interested, he went 9-9-18 in 32 games under MacLame, which would be projected to about 23-23-46 over an 82 game season) , Kovalchuk has a stat line of 6-7-13 in 18 games under interim Jacques Lemaire. Over an 82 game season , he'd have a projected stat line of 27-32-59, the second lowest point total in his career and lowest goal total, assuming if he was able to stay healthy/avoid suspensions/not getting benched by incompetent head coaches. Kovalchuk is still under contract for the next 14 years.

Now for the other guy going to the Devils- Anssi Salmela. He wasn't too bad in 2009-2010, but he also had to deal with injuries and being scratched pretty often. He missed most of this season due to a knee injury suffered in the world championships, and was only available for 3 of the Devils games under MacLame's reign. The Devils are 6-10-1 with Salmela in the lineup, averaging 2.88 goals against/game, which is slightly lower than their 2.90 GA/G for the season, but higher than the 2.56 GA/G the Devils have right now under Lemaire. His offensive numbers aren't that great, despite starting in the offensive zone 52.3%.

Now for the Thrashers- First up is Niclas Bergfors, the talented rookie forward. in 70 games with the Thrashers, he's gone 18-27-45, which should be about 21-32-53 over 82 games. In 2009-2010, he went 8-9-17 in 27 games w/ Atlanta, which would've projected to 24-27-51 over 82 games. With Atlanta this season, he went 10-18-28 in 43 games (missed 11 games as a scratch), so he'd project to  19-34-53 over 82 games (or 16-30-46 over 71 games if you consider the games he missed). Bergfors is an RFA at season's end and was reportedly being shopped earlier this season.

The second component of the trade was Johnny Oduya. Points wise, 23 points over an 82 games is alright, considering he has a different role on the team. In New Jersey, he ended up being one of the more important offensive defensemen due to his contributions on the blueline. In Atlanta, he's not needed nearly as much offensively as the Thrashers have a pair of excellent offensive defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. However, Oduya has been used quite abit in a defensive role, as he faces the 4th toughest competition amongst Thrashers defensemen** and has an offensive zone start of 41.6%, the lowest amongst Thrashers defensemen. Oduya has managed to stay healthy this season, and has played in all 54 games for the Thrashers. The only knock on him- he hasn't really done much to help the Thrashers reduce their 3.11 GA/G (24th in the league) and 34.2 SA/G (29th in the league). Oduya is signed through 2011-2012.

The 3rd part of this trade was Patrice Cormier- former Captain of Team Canada's world junior team, and more well known for his elbow on Mikael Tam which got him suspended from the QMJHL. At even strength, Cormier has been playing most of the time with Bryan Litte and Anthony Stewart according to DobberHockey's line combination tool. It might be a little too early to pass judgement on Cormier though, as he's only played 16 NHL games. Cormier is on an ELC and goes RFA at the end of the 2012-2013 season.

As for the Draft Picks, The Thrashers traded their picks (along with a few others) to acquire Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Akim Aliu and Ben Eager. Byfuglien became an all-star after being moved back to defense and Sopel's been serviceable for the Thrashers (although still abit pricey). As for Eager, he didn't really fit in well with the Thrashers and was traded to the San Jose Sharks for a 5th round draft pick. Aliu, while considered talented, wasn't able to perform at the AHL level and was demoted to the ECHL, where he's picked up his game.

As for the Devils pick they recieved (38th overall), the Devils used that pick to draft Jon Merrill. Merrill's performances at the WJC and at Michigan have allowed him to rocket to the top of many prospect lists, as Hockeysfuture ranks him at #4 on their top 20 prospects, and he's at the #1 position on ILWT's Top 20 prospects.

Conclusions

While many feel that the Devils lost the trade due to Kovalchuk and the Devils' performance this season (Thanks alot, MacLame!), and the fact that the Thrashers are a playoff team and succeeding without him is what really makes everyone think the Devils lost the trade. If you ask me, it's too early to pass judgement. What if the Devils had a competent head coach? Would Kovalchuk have put up such pathetic numbers? If 2010-11 turns out to be an outlier for Kovalchuk, people might change their opinions on the trade. Also, many people have a tendency to forget about the Devils using the Thrashers 2nd rounder to draft Jon Merrill, who could potentially be a solid NHL defenseman. With that being said, the Thrashers were able to turn a 50 goal scorer into an all-star defenseman (Byfuglien), a talented but somewhat enigmatic winger (Bergfors), some role players (Sopel, Oduya, Cormier) and a promising prospect of their own (Aliu) and could be going to the Playoffs for the first time in three years.Personally, I feel it's too early to say who won the trade because of the circumstances involving Kovalchuk's numbers. I'd wait one more year to see if Kovalchuk continues his mediocrity, or if he regresses to the mean before claiming the Thrashers won the trade.

What do you guys think of the trade? Did the Thrashers win the trade? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading.

*I wasn't able to find info on Cormier's shooting %

**Behind the Net does not list Byfuglien as a Defenseman.

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