Lou Lamoriello turned back the clock to the 1999-2000 season Thursday night.
The Devils' stunning acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk
from the Atlanta Thrashers
is eerily similar to the deal at the trade deadline that season that brought another Russian sniper, Alexander Mogilny
, to New Jersey from Vancouver in exchange for centers Brendan Morrison
and Denis Pederson
Lamoriello and the Devils hope the Kovalchuk trade has the same impact. Mogilny was an important part of the Devils team that won the 2000 Stanley Cup and came within one game of back-to-back Cups in 2001.
This season, the Devils have been one of the NHL's better teams, but their offense has sputtered in recent weeks, so Kovalchuk and his 31 goals figure to be just the tonic for a team that has impressed with its strong defense and overall depth.
"We felt that Kovalchuk was a player that could come and fill the need that we felt we had, with reference to an explosive scorer and someone who could add a different dimension to our power play with the type of shot (he has)," Lamoriello said during a conference call Thursday night. "Then, it was just a case of trying to make it work somehow where we could not sacrifice tomorrow with the type of players that we have in our organization. We have the depth with reference to the drafts and we have stockpiled the last several years and some players have really come of age. So we felt that we could make this transaction and not hurt the future."
Coach Jacques Lemaire
will now have a star presence to augment Zach Parise
, Travis Zajac
and Jamie Langenbrunner
on the top line -- or he can mix and match his forwards to create two scoring lines.
With Patrik Elias
nearing a return from a concussion, he could center a line with Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston
to form that second scoring line.
"He's a power forward," Lamoriello said of Kovalchuk. "He has hockey sense. He knows how to make other people around him better. You can tell by the assists he gets. He can do things that a lot of people can't do, and put him into our lineup, he will become a part. He will be no different than any of our other players. He'll be a part of who we are and help the team win."
"He's a power forward. He has hockey sense. He knows how to make other people around him better. You can tell by the assists he gets. He can do things that a lot of people can't do and him put into our lineup, he will become a part. He will be no different than any of our other players. He'll be a part of who we are and help the team win." -- Lou Lamoriello on Ilya Kovalchuk
Kovalchuk, a two-time 50-goal scorer with 328 goals and 615 points in 594 career NHL games, can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and rejected a couple of lucrative offers from the Thrashers, so he may well end up as a "rental" for the Devils, who believe his offense could carry them to a championship.
"That has not even been a thought at this moment," Lamoriello when asked about re-signing Kovalchuk. "What we want to do is just get him here, get him into the environment, get him into the lineup, get our coaches to see what he brings. We see what he brings, he sees what we bring and not even think about that (re-signing him) whatsoever. That is not the thought process at this time. It is to get this team better and in the next couple of weeks, get sort of acquainted, so that once the break is over we get all of our players back. Paul Martin
will be back. David Clarkson
will be back. Certainly, Patrik (Elias) should be back before then, hopefully, and then we'll know what we are."
New Jersey also re-acquired defenseman Anssi Salmela
in the trade. He had been sent to Atlanta last season, his rookie year, for veteran defenseman Nicklas Havelid.
Thanks to that overall depth, New Jersey was able to pay the price the Thrashers were seeking for Kovalchuk, namely players who can step into the lineup now (Johnny Oduya
and Niclas Bergfors
) and prospects (Patrice Cormier
and a first-round draft pick) for the future.
Oduya, a defenseman, was a Lamoriello special, a free agent signed out of Sweden who will compete in the 2010 Olympics. Oduya was in his fourth season in New Jersey and had developed into a solid defenseman, one who figures to help the Thrashers immediately.
Bergfors was New Jersey's first-round pick in 2005 (No. 23) and was getting his first sustained NHL action this season. He has 13 goals and 14 assists in 54 games, but was an un-Devil-like minus-7 and had no points in his last 13 games. With the Thrashers, Bergfors figures to earn more ice time and as a result his numbers should improve.
Cormier has been in the news for the wrong reasons after being suspended for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs after elbowing opponent Michael Tam last month in the Quebec Major Junior League. Cormier, a standout for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in 2010 was New Jersey's second-round pick in 2008 and had impressed at training camp.
The first-round pick in June's draft figures to be near the end of the round -- it will be the last pick of the round if Lamoriello's plans are realized.
The teams also swapped 2010 second-round draft picks in the deal.