The Kovalchuk Effect
Let's change the discussion up a bit around here, as the Rangers are, well, being the typical Rangers. Just in case you've been living under a rock for the past day or so, here is the official trade between the Atlanta Thrashers and New Jersey Devils:
To New Jersey Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk, Anssi Salmela, ATL 2nd Round 2010
To Atlanta Thrashers: Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, NJ 1st Round 2010, NJ 2nd Round 2010
I'll go ahead for the impatient ones out there and just say it right now; I think in the short term the Devils win this deal, but I think if things go right for once down in Atlanta the Thrashers might end up winning this deal three years down the road. Overall, though, I'm going to give the slight edge to GM Lou Lamoriello and the Devils seeing as New Jersey just went from possible to probable Stanley Cup finalists. Let's look at this trade from a couple different perspectives.
From the Devil's mouth: The Devils and their fans are, deservedly, giddy with excitement about this trade. I'm not going to even try and describe Kovalchuk's talent with a horrible cliché.The more interesting part of the deal to me is Anssi Salmela, a 25 year-old former Devil who has offensive potential but hasn't found his groove yet. He can step right in for Oduya and should do fine because of the Devil's defensive system. Lamoriello made a smart decision by moving Cormier, as he could have serious character issues with his acts recently on the ice. To me, I think Kovalchuk will end up being a rental for the Devils. Marty Brodeur is having a little bounce-back year, but some of the tell-tale signs of a goalie on his way out have shown over the past couple of seasons. The Devils seem to be going for it all, and this move will obviously be looked upon as one of the bigger reasons why they won it if they end up with the Cup.
From the Birds Nest: Unfortunately, I don't think GM Don Waddell got all he could have for Kovalchuk in the short term. Johnny Oduya was signed to a reward contract for playing so well before, but now he is underperforming without Paul Martin on the ice with him. Bergfors over-achieved out of the gate, but is still a good young talent at the ripe age of 22. Both Oduya and Bergfors will benefit by playing in the Southeast division, if you want to take a fantasy angle. Patrice Cormier, meanwhile, can develop in peace once he gets all this suspension BS behind him. He could prove a lot of people wrong by quietly playing good in Hockey's no-man's land. Overall, though, it was tough for Atlanta to come out as the clear winner in any deal involving Kovalchuk. Atlanta is stacked with young talent and draft picks now, and that path has worked for some of the NHL's top teams currently right now.
From Madison Square Garden: Well, the Atlantic Division just got tougher than it usually is. Dating back to the 2006-2007 season, Kovalchuk has played 14 games against the Rangers for a total of 14 points (5 Goals - 8 Assists). Nobody can score against the Devils to begin with, so this does not make for a good match-up for the Rangers at any point. God forbid if the Rangers end up making the playoffs and we have to play the Devils. The only good thing about Kovalchuk coming to the Atlantic is that the Devils could be dishing out more losses than usual to the Penguins, Flyers, and Islanders. Games against those teams will now become 3-pointers, as I think either the Flyers or the Rangers will be the third team in the playoffs for the Atlantic Division.
In the end, I think the Devils are going for it all, the Thrashers got a good but not great return, and the Rangers need to make one more deal if they expect to make the playoffs. One thing I know for sure is that I will not be watching any Devils-Rangers pre-game shows, because all they will be talking about is the 26 year-old sniper from Russia. I'll drink to Gabby's health while I wait.
P.S: Guess who crosses the river Saturday to visit MSG? Yeah, that team who just traded for Kovalchuk. I'm gonna start drinking now.