Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell released a team statement Thursday afternoon to explain why the club was exploring the trade market for their 26-year-old superstar, Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk became the subject of trade rumours after reports surfaced that he could not come to terms on a multi-year contract with the only NHL team he's ever played for. The Russian sniper was then traded to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.
The Thrashers acquired defenceman John Oduya, forwards Niclas Bergfors and Patrice Cormier and the Devils first round pick in 2010.
The Devils also receive defenceman Anssi Salmela in the deal. In addition, the two teams also swap second round picks in 2010.
Kovalchuk is in the final year of his current deal and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
"Our goal from the start of this negotiating process was to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a long-term contract," said Waddell in the statement. "During the process, Kovy affirmed his desire to be a Thrasher for life. We've spent several months exploring scenarios with Kovy and his agent to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, and offered many lucrative packages in an attempt to meet his financial objectives. Unfortunately, we've reached an impasse and at this point he has declined all of our proposals and we can't reasonably go any higher.
"Ultimately, we offered Kovy more than $101 million over 12 years, which would have been the highest contract signed by an impending unrestricted free agent in the history of the league. If accepted, this contract would have been the second highest offer ever to any NHL player. We also met his desire to be the highest paid player based on average annual salary with a separate offer of 7 years at $10M per year ($70M). This offer is $0.5M higher per year than any other player.
"If we went beyond these offers, we would not be able to retain the young players on our roster when it came time to sign them, or invest in other top tier players needed to assemble a truly competitive team. Therefore, we are aggressively exploring all of our options as we move forward."
An eight-year NHL veteran, Kovalchuk was selected first overall by the Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Draft. In 594 career NHL games with Atlanta, he has amassed 328 goals and 615 points.
Kovalchuk scored a career-high 52 goals with the Thrashers in 2007-08 and was co-recipient of the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2003-04 with a league-leading 41 goals.