Thursday, February 4, 2010

Anatomy of a blockbuster

Now that I can exhale, it has been a wild two days with the rumors of Ilya Kovalchuk coming to the Devils starting after a seemingly innocuous and wild comment from of all people ex-Islanders great Denis Potvin on NHL Live, when he stated matter-of-factly that Kovalchuk would be traded to the Devils. That started the internet rumor mill churning, and maybe a few hours after that a reliable poster on HF Boards who owns a bar and deals with Devil and Ranger players on a frequent basis reported that a Kovalchuk trade was imminent and was pretty much spot-on with the details as it turned out.

It was about that point that I started to believe that this might be possible. Especially when I heard said poster correctly predicted the Olli Jokinen trade and other local signings before they happened. Still, you can never tell. It was just a couple years ago after all that Lou Lamoriello supposedly had a deal for the Thrashers' Marian Hossa nearly done, but the Penguins swooped in at the last minute and trumped our offer. With the amount of teams that could have trumped our bid like the Blackhawks, Kings, Flyers and teams crazy enough to sell the farm like the Rangers and Canadiens, it was impossible to fully believe this would happen.

So it was a long day and a half between those rumors and the connsumation of the trade. In between there was all sorts of wild speculation, from the Rangers being heavily involved to the Kings, Blackhawks and Bruins being front-runners as well with other teams like the Flyers mentioned. During all that though, the whispers about the Devils being the ones to make this trade were by far the loudest. Especially when it was reported that either the Thrashers' GM Don Waddell or assistant Rick Dudley was in attendance for the Devils' last two home games as well as the second Lowell-Hartford game at the Rock last night (won by Hartford 3-2 in OT). Not to mention the news that Kovalchuk had rejected a $100 million plus offer from the Thrashers, which was obviously Waddell's way of greasing the skids for a trade out of town.

Finally, just a couple hours ago at around 7 PM all indications were that a deal would be announced within the hour but still no word...finally at 7:30 word filtered down that it was indeed the Devils who would be acquiring the NHL's overall leading goalscorer since 2001-02. In typical Devils fashion however, speculation ran rampant over who would be going the other way. I heard what must have been fifteen different versions of the trade reported in the next hour. The only one that made me cringe was David Clarkson being involved, I didn't think the Devils could afford to lose that type of player but fortunately those rumors proved false. Not to mention the prospect we gave back seemed to change by the minute. First it was Matthais Tedenby, then Nick Palmeri and finally Patrice Cormier.

In the end however, the initial rumor actually proved to be fairly accurate with the two principals - defenseman Johnny Oduya and wing Nicklas Bergfors going to Atlanta along with a prospect and a 1st rounder, plus a swap of second-rounders. One of the few things that changed from the first report was the prospect involved. Initially it was Palmeri, but it turned out to be Cormier. Plus the second rounder swap - favorable to us - was also a late addition, something I found out almost before I published this. And seemingly at the last minute (I thought it was a joke the first time I heard), Atlanta added in a player they acquired from us just last year...the immortal Anssi Salmela. But hey, we do need defensive depth now after losing Oduya. Whether Salmela fills that depth himself or plugs in the hole at Lowell while one of their defensemen comes up remains unclear at this hour.

So what does acquiring Kovalchuk mean for the Devils? Yes, it's the 'sexy' move we typically shy away from and he won't be around past this year in all likelihood but man, it does make this Devils team suddenly a lot more formidable. Just picture a top three lines of Kovalchuk-Elias-Rolston, Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner, Nieds-Zubrus-Clarkson. That actually becomes an offense to be reckoned with. Maybe not on the level of the top four or five offensive teams but more than enough to compete. No longer can teams shadow the Parise line exclusively, heck the PZL boys might actually become the second line!

Of course you have to give up something to get something, and we gave from our defense certainly. Though I wasn't Oduya's biggest fan, our defense was leaky even with him and now without him that just means either Lou will still need to make another trade or at least one of the kids is going to have to step up. Presuming Paul Martin doesn't have a third setback on his arm, the defense at least includes him, Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador and Colin White. That's a pretty serviceable top four and Mike Mottau can hopefully regain his form of the past two seasons playing fewer minutes on the back pairing. At least one youngster will have to step up though as presently constituted. Whether it's Mark Fraser (whose icetime has been going way down recently), Matthew Corrente or Tyler Eckford, hopefully over the last third of the season at least one of them - or Salmela - makes a jump into the everyday lineup the way White did during the 2000 season.

And yes losing Bergfors might hurt down the road, but he wasn't going to help this year - witness his own declining icetime and production - plus the jury's still out on him after all. He might become a good player (think Ales Hemsky or better) or he might become an Ales Kotalik-like tease. Cormier being included in the deal was somewhat of a surprise, given his suspension from junior hockey for the rest of this season after a dirty elbow that left some poor kid having convulsions on the ice. Still, Cormier is only 19 or 20 and had some trade value left despite the incident from his skill level and being the captain on Canada's junior team. Hopefully for the embattled Thrasher fans those two young players turn into something, but they could rue getting Oduya, who hasn't looked like an NHL defenseman without Martin around. Of course he could be fine if he gets paired with Zach Bogosian, or not.

One thing's for sure, nobody's talking about the Devils' 2-8 record in their last ten games now. It's going to be electric at the Rock tomorrow, especially if Kovy does make it in town for his Devil debut. I'm so excited I couldn't wait to see Kovalchuk in a Devils uni, I had to lift this photoshopped picture from NJDevs and HF (above)! Well actually I was looking for another one but I couldn't find it so this one'll have to do for now.
UPDATE: Kovy and Salmela will both be in the Devils' lineup tomorrow against the Maple Leafs. So take that Brian Burke, you made your big acquisitions before our second game, now it's our turn to energize our fanbase!


Derek Felix said...

when it came across Twitter, I relayed the news to our section. There were an awful lot of squeamish Ranger Tweeps. Then there was that wild and crazy game which they predictably lost. Ovechkin was unbelievable. So was Poti to boot.

It reminds me of Mogilny except Kovy's younger. How will a guy who's known to take shifts off fit under Lemaire? May as well have just signed Gaborik.

Sambone said...

This is Example A of the difference between a 'pretty good' GM committed to a 'pretty good' season like Darcy Regier, and a HOF GM like Lou.

Kudos to Lou for having the guts to make a move like this. And can we please move Atlanta to a market that cares, like Quebec? How low can the attendance go now in Hotlanta?

Stay tuned.

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