ATLANTA - Ilya Kovalchuk has been traded to the New Jersey Devils, matching one of the Eastern Conference's top teams with one of the game's most dangerous snipers.
The Atlanta Thrashers felt forced to trade their captain after failing to re-sign him and received forward Niclas Bergfors, defenceman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier and a 2010 first-round pick from the Devils on Thursday night.
New Jersey also received defenceman Anssi Salmela in the deal and the teams swapped 2010 second-round draft picks.
The fourth significant NHL deal in less than a week was arguably the biggest. Kovalchuk leads all NHLers with 328 goals since being drafted first overall by Atlanta in 2001.
The move came just hours after Thrashers GM Don Waddell released a statement saying the sides had reached an impasse on contract negotiations. He added that Kovalchuk turned down a US$101-million, 12-year deal and a $70-million, seven-year deal that would have made him the NHL's highest-paid 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," Waddell said in the release. "Therefore, we are aggressively exploring all of our options as we move forward."
One of the players Atlanta ended up receiving in exchange for their star is Cormier, who is currently suspended for the remainder of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season for his elbow on Mikael Tam last month. The 19-year-old was a second-round pick by New Jersey and the captain of Canada's world junior team.
The other two players will join their roster right away.
Oduya, 28, has two years remaining on his contract at annual cap hit of $3.5 million. He has two goals and two assists in 40 games for the Devils this season.
Bergfors is just 22 and currently sits fifth in rookie scoring with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists). The 22-year-old was a first-round pick of the Devils in 2005.
New Jersey reacquired Salmela after dealing him to Atlanta at the trade deadline last year. He has five points (one goal, four assists) in 29 games for the Thrashers this season.
Of course, the biggest name is Kovalchuk.
He's scored 40 or more goals in five straight seasons and is well on his to a sixth, with 31 goals through 49 games this year. The 26-year-old is still slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The move comes less than two weeks before Kovalchuk will play for Russia at the Vancouver Olympics.