Friday, April 23, 2010

The Kovalchuk Deal: Who Came Out On Top?

Well, with the ousting of the New Jersey Devils last night, unceremoniously at the hands of their hated division rival and border buddy Philadelphia Flyers, we have ourselves probably one of the best debates for this offseason. It was the blockbuster that didn't happen on trade deadline day, it was the Ilya Kovalchuk deal. Was the deal that sent Ilya Kovalchuk, Anssi Samela, and a 2nd round pick to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, and a 1st and 2nd round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, worth it? Let's get to it.

The Stats

This is obviously the easiest part of the deal to measure. We've got an established elite sniper traded for a solid defensemen, a rookie, a prospect, and a draft pick. Boom, the numbers.

Ilya Kovalchuk 27 10 17 27 9 8 2 21:40 22.3
Annsi Salmela 9 1 2 3 -5 0 0 14:26 19.4

Johnny Oduya 27 1 8 9 6 12 0 21:22 26.5
Niclas Bergfors 27 8 9 17 -3 0 1 16:29 18.4

Patrice Cormier, he of rather infamous notoriety, picked up 11 goals and 20 assists in 31 games spread across two teams in the QMJHL.

To compare, Niclas Bergfors had 27 points for the Devils in 54 games, double that of Kovalchuk, granted he is a rookie, but it is of note.

After the break, even more on the deal.

The Results

Well, Kovalchuk shored up the Devils offensively and helped them secure the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference, going 13-9-5 since the Feb. 4th trade. They were 35-18-2 prior to the move, and actually saw their percentage of wins versus total games drop from 64% to 58% over the term of the acquisition.

The Devils though were taken out back behind the woodshed and beaten 4-1 by the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.

The Thrashers on the other hand, fell out of contention and could never quite catch the the rest of the pack (somehow) in the East, going 11-11-5 in the post-Kovalchuk era, finishing in 10th place, 5 points out of 8th. The Thrashers were 24-23-8 prior to the trade, finishing at 35-34-13. Their percentage of wins versus total games played actually stayed static, as 35/82 and 24/55 actually both end up at 43%.

The Contracts

Ilya Kovalchuk: Pending UFA. Kovalchuk's first major payoff, when the salary cap was at a mere $39 million, was a 5 year, $32 million contract, with a cap hit of $6.4 million. Reports are saying that Kovalchuk was asking for upwards of $10 million per year long term from Atlanta.

Johnny Oduya: 2 years, $7.5 million. Prior to this season Oduya re-signed with the Devils for 3 years, worth $10.5 million, coming with a $3.5 million cap hit.

Niclas Bergfors: Pending RFA. Bergfors will be coming off his entry level contract which paid him a cap hit of $818,333 over his first 3 years (when in New Jersey, most of the time was spent in the AHL).

The Expectations

To say the Devils were anticipated to win the Atlantic once again would be a stretch; from the Flyers offseason acquisitions to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins retaining mostly the same roster, they were certainly expected to make Lord Stanley's dance. But early season success, Marty Brodeur's record-setting season, and finally, the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk had mid-season expectations through the roof. Now, after a dreadful post-season performance that saw the Devils post 9 goals total in the 5 game series with the Flyers, and with the pending UFA status of Kovalchuk in the air, optimism is not nearly as high in Newark.

Best estimate for the Thrashers? 8th in the East? With little to no shot to catch the President's Trophy winning Capitals in the division, and perennial playoff contender Carolina Hurricanes in the division, there was mild enthusiasm, at best, for this team early. But the signings of Antropov, Afinogenov, and the emergence of Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian led to some mid-season optimism. That optimism remains now in their post-season, as there was no considerable drop off in success post-Kovalchuk.

The Picks & Prospect

The exchange saw New Jerseys 1st rounder, and both teams 2nd rounders, flip. That 1st rounder will be between 22-26, depending upon which division champs get knocked out in the 1st round as well. The Thrashers hold the 38th pick, which will become the Devils, and again, the Thrashers will pick up the 52nd-56th pick.

Patrice Cormier now becomes a prime prospect in the Thrashers system. He played on both the 2009 & 2010 Canada World Juniors team, acting as Captain during his second stint on the team. The center looks to be headed to the Chicago Wolves next season.

The Verdict

There's one piece of this puzzle left to solve; whether or not Kovalchuk re-signs with the Devils. With about $15 million in cap space currently available to sign Kovalchuk, Paul Martin, and David Clarkson as well as about 6 other roster spots, can the Devils afford to bring back the Russian sniper?

If they do, you'd have to assume that the point per game player will be worth the price paid to bring him in, especially if they manage to keep both Martin and Clarkson (and filling out the rest of the roster with decent role players), of course that's a big if, especially seeing as how the Devils has been about $2 million under the cap over the past 3 years.

However, another question begs to be asked, does Kovalchuk really fit into the Devils plans? Do statements like "I am who I am, I was born to score goals" fit with the Devils counter-attack schemes? It's an interesting thought, especially with some of Lemaire's recent quotes about him trying too hard to score points for himself. The Devils are the pinnacle of the team-oriented approach, is Kovalchuk? I think not.

If they don't re-sign Kovalchuk, one has to think it's a complete, unmitigated disaster for the Devils. No Cup, only 3 games added playoff revenue, as well as mortgaging a minor part of the future for 2 months of play. In most peoples eyes that would be a complete win for the Thrashers. If they do re-sign Kovalchuk, can anyone say that Bergfors and Oduya add up to his worth? No, and in that regards, it has be a victory for the Devils.

Hell, some Devils fans will even contend that no Cup this year is enough to call the trade for Kovalchuk a failure, and frankly they do have a point.

But what about those Thrashers? After the trade of Kovalchuk, their performance didn't suffer at all; didn't improve, but didn't drastically get worse. Can you consider turning the page on a failed era, where they only made the playoffs once, never winning a single contest in the postseason, a bad move? Restocking with another 1st round pick, a strong prospect, and a young core; as well as ridding themselves of Don Waddell's personnel leadership, can only be considered moving in the right direction.

In my opinion, moving Kovalchuk was a win-win for those Thrashers, while the Devils have that contract negotiation hanging over their heads, but I'm not so sure keeping him is in their right interests.

What do you all think?


Space Weed said...

Thrashers won. No way can the Devils re-sign Kovalchuk without 1)dumping enough Salary for 4th liners and Zach Parise's contract extension in 2011 (he's an RFA, but even losing him to an offer sheet is bad news)or 2) losing Paul Martin to Free agency. Unless Lou can move high priced players with NTCs (i.e. Rolston, White, Pandolfo), there's no way the Devils won this trade.

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Fact: BanginPanger is not meant as an insult to the one and only Darren Pang, nor do I claim to be him. The views and opinions presented on BanginPanger are of my own, and no other namesake of the site, the NHL, Buffalo Sabres, Washington Capitals, or anyone else.