Thrashers ship Kovalchuk to Devils for players, 1st Rounder Staff

2/5/2010 1:01:05 AM

The Atlanta Thrashers have parted ways with the most celebrated player in franchise history, trading star winger Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils.

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. New Jersey traded Salmela to Atlanta last March for Niclas Havelid.

In addition, the two teams also swap second round picks in 2010.

Kovalchuk, 26, became the subject of trade rumours recently after reports surfaced that he could not come to terms on a multi-year contract with general manager Don Waddell. The Russian sniper is in the final year of his current contract and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

"It's a bittersweet day," said Waddell during a Thursday night conference call. "Now we have to move forward and look at the positive side of things."

"[The Devils are] a good team with a great chance to make the playoffs and go far," said Kovalchuk. "But, it's sad at the same time... I've been a Thrasher for eight years and I appreciated everything."

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 278 assists. The high-scoring winger has 31 goals and 27 assists with a plus-1 rating so far this season.

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.

The team had been trying to work out a long-term deal with the star forward, but in the end could reach an agreement. General manager Don Waddell explained the negotiations in a media release on Thursday.

"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."

In Oduya, the Thrashers pick up a 28-year-old blue-liner who was originally drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 7th Round (221st overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He has two goals with two assists and a plus-2 rating over his 40 games this season.

Bergfors, 22, is in his second season with the Devils and has 13 goals, 14 assists and is minus-7 through 54 games this season. He was selected by the Devils in the 1st round (23rd overall) of the 2005 Entry Draft.

The 19-year-old Cormier had been playing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, but was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs by the QMJHL after delivering a hit to the head of Quebec Remparts' Mikael Tam. Cormier was Canada's captain at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship and helped the team to a silver medal this past January. He was drafted by New Jersey in the 2nd round (54th overall) of the 2008 Entry Draft.