Don Waddell decided Ilya Kovalchuk wasn't going to re-sign with the Atlanta Thrashers, so there was only one thing left to do: make the best deal possible.
That happened Thursday night, as the New Jersey Devils won the sweepstakes for the talented forward by sending two regulars from their lineup, defenseman Johnny Oduya and winger Niclas Bergfors, as well as a prospect, Patrice Cormier, and a 2010 first-round draft pick.
Let's be clear on a major point before going any further. Waddell's long-stated goal was to re-sign Kovalchuk to a contract extension. But he was playing a game of beat the clock. With unrestricted free agency approaching for Kovalchuk, Waddell was fully aware he risked losing him on July 1 for no return.
So, Waddell made the tough decision -- trading Kovalchuk.
But making a deal like this isn't easy. Because of the salary cap, all teams couldn't get involved in the trade talks because they lacked the cap room to insert Kovalchuk into the lineup for the remainder of the season or were not willing to sacrifice some tangible assets -- read players -- for what would be a short-term rental prior to July 1. New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello was.
"We would have never done this if we didn’t have the people that we have coming: the (Jacob) Josefsons, the (Mattias) Tedenbys, the (Adam) Henriques, the (Alexander) Urboms and all the other players that we have that we feel are ready," Lamoriello said during a conference call Thursday night. "The (Nick) Palmieris, who are close, the (Alexander) Vasyunovs, the (Vladimir) Zharkovs -- only so many players can play. And we know what the system is like and the way it works and we feel that the depth we have at defense and the depth we have at the forwards and also the veterans we have under contract, that this was a situation where we could make our team better today without question and tomorrow, no matter what the end result at the end of the year, we felt we had the players to put into those situations."
With the Thrashers in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, just three points back of Tampa Bay (which won Thursday night) for the eighth seed, Waddell couldn't trade Kovalchuk for prospects alone. He needed tangible assets -- and was pleased with what he got.
"We're very excited to be adding Johnny Oduya to our hockey club," Waddell said. "He's a top-four defenseman, and he's going to be playing in the Olympics for Sweden. Nicklas Bergfors is a first-year player with 13 goals who has a lot of potential."
There were plenty of suitors for Kovalchuk, but the team acquiring him had to have the cap room, enough assets to satisfy the Thrashers and enough assets to take over for those leaving.
The Devils did.
Here is an updated look at who is buying and who is selling come the March 3 trade deadline. Keep in mind, there is a roster freeze for the Olympics from Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. ET to 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 28.
Atlanta Thrashers -- With the Kovalchuk situation resolved, the Thrashers will now concentrate on making the playoffs.
New Jersey Devils -- With the blockbuster deal for Kovalchuk, Lamoriello will turn the keys over to Jacques Lemaire and one of the most talented and deep New Jersey teams in a while and see what happens.
Toronto Maple Leafs -- Brian Burke says he is still open for business after last Sunday's deals that brought Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere to Toronto. The names you hear most are forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky and Lee Stempniak and defenseman Garnet Exelby.
Washington Capitals -- Not much of a change here, as you might expect from a team that never seems to lose. GM George McPhee will, of course, listen, but isn't likely to look for more than some added depth.
Buffalo Sabres -- Not much change here from last week. The Sabres may want some more scoring -- who doesn't? -- but Buffalo also has a strong MVP candidate in Ryan Miller and a strong defensive team approach that wins in the postseason.
Pittsburgh Penguins -- GM Ray Shero made a couple nice moves at last season's deadline and came away with the Stanley Cup. Can he do it again? The name most attached to the Pens is Carolina's Ray Whitney. We'll see.
Ottawa Senators -- Like the Capitals, the Senators are streaking in the right direction, so GM Bryan Murray may add some depth pieces, but isn't likely to disrupt the chemistry here.
Philadelphia Flyers -- The Flyers are never afraid to make a move, but salary cap issues may hamper Holmgren, who said he is looking for some pieces up front and on defense, from making a blockbuster.
New York Rangers -- If you trade two players and then add two players, are you buying or selling? Hmmm. Even with the addition of Olli Jokinen, the Rangers could use more scoring and perhaps a veteran backup to spell Henrik Lundqvist.
Florida Panthers -- The Panthers are not faced with the dilemma of last season when they had to decide to trade or keep free-agent-to-be Jay Bouwmeester. It's unlikely that GM Randy Sexton breaks up his young core now.
Montreal Canadiens -- Still plenty of talk about the Habs dealing a goalie for more help, but now the question is whether that goalie is Jaroslav Halak or Carey Price.
Boston Bruins -- The Bruins are in freefall, so you have to think GM Peter Chiarelli is looking to trade now.
New York Islanders -- Marty Biron is the likely candidate to move on, but aside from that, don't expect a blockbuster from the Isles, who would be silly to disrupt their young core.
Tampa Bay Lightning -- Vinny Lecavalier isn't going anywhere, especially with the Bolts in the thick of the playoff race.
Carolina Hurricanes -- Figure on the Hurricanes to move some veteran players for draft picks and prospects and Carolina looks to get things together for next season.
Calgary Flames -- The Flames appear to have made their moves in acquiring Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Myers and Ian White from the Maple Leafs and Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins from the Rangers.
Anaheim Ducks -- Trading Giguere settled the goaltending picture for the Ducks, and the hope is a fresh start gets Jason Blake going. Gut feeling says the Ducks don't move veterans like Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne.
Edmonton Oilers -- Would someone still take a chance on defenseman Sheldon Souray, who figures to be back from a broken hand before the season ends? Maybe, but the price has dropped, Other Oilers veterans should figure on moving on.
San Jose Sharks -- GM Doug Wilson will look for some additional depth, but the trade for Dany Heatley was the big move for the Sharks this season.
Chicago Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks will have to make some moves to become cap-compliant for next season -- but that's next season. For now, GM Stan Bowman has to think long and hard about disrupting the chemistry.
Colorado Avalanche -- The surprising team of the season without question, the Avs should be buyers if some offensive depth comes up.
Vancouver Canucks -- They're buyers, but will be walking the depth aisles since the key cogs already are filled quite nicely.
Phoenix Coyotes -- Like the Avs, the Coyotes' success has been stunning this season, so count GM Don Maloney among the buyers, but he won't break up his young core to get a deal done.
Los Angeles Kings -- The Kings had been linked to Kovalchuk, so now it is Plan B for GM Dean Lombardi.
Nashville Predators -- In the playoff hunt for sure, GM David Poile is among the smartest guys around so he won't make sacrifice the future, but may well add some depth.
Detroit Red Wings -- Ken Holland is another GM who knows how to build a winner. He identified this season as a transition year for the Wings to bring in a number of younger players, so he won't be sending any away to make a splash at the deadline.
Dallas Stars -- GM Joe Nieuwendyk's first deadline should be interesting as the Stars hover in the playoff race. There has been a lot of talk about goalie Marty Turco's future in Dallas, so that bears watching.
Minnesota Wild -- Still in the hunt for a playoff berth, GM Chuck Fletcher will have to make the call at the deadline as to what category his team falls into. Could go either way.
St. Louis Blues -- On the outside looking in at this point, the Blues could be sellers in regards to veteran players, but it's highly unlikely they will part with any of the young core in a blockbuster.
Columbus Blue Jackets -- With Ken Hitchcock gone, the Blue Jackets may begin to look to next season and deal veterans like winger Raffi Torres for some future help.