So it's New Jersey for Ilya Kovalchuk. Well, on one level, given Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello's ability to pull a rabbit out of the trading cap, who is really surprised? Two NHL blockbusters in one week is a record in the post-lockout NHL; that Lamoriello was able to complete the other one, after his Providence College protégé Brian Burke landed Dion Phaneuf from Calgary and J.S. Giguere from Anaheim makes you think, there must be something in the Rhode Island water that provides its residents with a gambler's instinct.
Lamoriello essentially won the Kovalchuk sweepstakes for two basic reasons: One, after all these years as one of the top GMs in the game, he has the courage of his own convictions and knows when he can afford to make a big-time play; and two, some of his younger, more inexperienced colleagues essentially chickened out at the 11th hour, afraid to give up real-world prospects for a player that would likely join them only as a rental.
Yes, you can put the Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings at the top of the list - two teams that made inquiries for Kovalchuk, but balked at the asking price.
For Atlanta general manager Don Waddell, the take isn't great. Johnny Oduya and Niclas Bergfors are the only players on the Devils' active roster coming his way; Oduya is a useful regular on defence, but he is not going to produce a lot of offence for the team (four points in 40 games). Bergfors is a rookie former first-round draft choice in 2005 who had an excellent start, but has fallen off the face of the earth this past month. Also joining Atlanta: Patrice Cormier, the controversial captain of Canada's silver medal-winning world junior team who is suspended for the rest of the QMJHL season; plus a first-round draft choice in 2010 that figures to be no higher than 25th overall in a good, but not great draft.
Not much in other words, considering that Kovalchuk is one of the top talents in the NHL and gives the Devils a dimension that they lacked, beyond Zach Parise - a natural goal-scorer, someone capable of tilting the balance of power in those tight-to-the-vest games that coach Jacques Lemaire likes to play.
So let's make that question No. 1 - how will Kovalchuk get along with Lemaire, a player who had a comparable talent on his squad in the Minnesota Wild days (Marian Gaborik) and constantly stressed to him the need to play defence? Not sure Lemaire's philosophy will excite Kovalchuk who, at his freewheeling best, likes to spit out the bit and gallop to the attack.
On the other hand, the Devils made a similar move a decade ago to land Alexander Mogilny as a playoff rental and that deal paid dividends. Lamoriello gave up Brendan Morrison and Dennis Pederson to the Vancouver Canucks; New Jersey won the Stanley Cup that year (2000), even if Mogilny managed only seven paltry points in 23 playoff games. But what Kovalchuk does give the Devils is a chance to construct a second scoring line. Eventually, he'll probably play with Patrick Elias. Add in Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner to Parise and Brian Rolston and that's not a bad complement of forwards to go into battle against the likes of the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Presumably, with goaltender Martin Brodeur in the midst of another excellent season, the Devils figured the time to make a push for playoff success was now (after consecutive first-round exits under former coach Brent Sutter).
As for the Bruins, you'd have to think that they've looked at the rest of the competition in the East and understand that as currently built, they simply don't match up.
Patience can be an elusive virtue at the NHL level, but GM Peter Chiarelli seems to possess it in large quantities. Even though Chiarelli was uniquely positioned with draft choices galore to make a push for Kovalchuk (and reunite him with fellow ex-Thrasher Marc Savard), he just couldn't bring himself to meet Atlanta's asking price.
Understandable if the price was Milan Lucic, who despite a tough time of it this season, remains a commodity that a team can build around; or the No. 1 draft choice they received from Toronto in the Phil Kessel deal, which could be top three.