It was confirmed Thursday that the Devils have acquired the former Atlanta captain, an impending free agent. The Thrashers will receive defenseman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, junior prospect Patrice Cormier and New Jersey's first-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Defenseman Anssi Salmela, traded by the Devils to the Thrashers last March for Niclas Havelid, will return to New Jersey as part of the deal. The teams will also flip second-round picks.
"This wasn't an easy deal to make," General Manager Don Waddell said Thursday night. "Ilya Kovalchuk
has been with us for eight years. He's been the face of our franchise and done so many good things for us, on and off the ice.
Kovalchuk owns almost all the offensive records in Thrashers history and is having another excellent season with 31 goals and 27 assists for 58 points in 49 games. But he will become a free agent on July 1 and had not reached agreement on a new contract with the team.
The Thrashers had offered multiple deals, including a $101 million, 12-year contract that Waddell said Thursday had been rejected. Kovalchuk reportedly had been looking for a contract worth the maximum of 20 percent of the salary cap on a deal that would last 10-12 years.
Since the Thrashers drafted him with the No. 1 pick in 2001, Kovalchuk leads the NHL with 328 goals. But Atlanta, an expansion team that debuted in 1999-2000, has made just one playoff appearance and has never won a postseason game.
Kovalchuk, who has 328 goals and 615 points in 594 NHL games, is a two-time 50-goal scorer who has at least 41 goals in each of the last five seasons. He would be a major offensive boost for the Devils, who've slumped badly in the last few weeks and are in danger of dropping out of first place in the Atlantic Division.
Oduya, a 28-year-old, has 2 goals and 4 points in 40 games this season. Bergfors, New Jersey's first-round pick in 2005, has 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points in 54 games, but hasn't scored a goal since Dec. 30 and has gone 13 games without a point.
Cormier was captain of Canada's world junior championship team. He has been suspended for the rest of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season for an elbowing incident.