When the Atlanta Thrashers traded Marian Hossa to the Pittsburgh Penguins two trade deadlines ago, it was very clear that superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk was the face of this franchise for many years to come...or not.
Until just days ago, General Manager Don Waddell didn’t realize that not even 100 million dollars would keep the Russian phenom around. Yes, that’s what was offered to Mr. Kovalchuk hours before being dealt to the New Jersey Devils in a 5-player trade.
Many have argued since the breaking news hit just about every single website related to the sport of hockey a couple weeks ago, that GM Don Waddell simply didn’t get enough assets in return for a hockey player who was supposed to be the key to not only winning hockey games, but keeping the Thrashers in Georgia for years to come. I have to agree with a large population of bloggers and NHL media, that Waddell didn’t get enough assets in return, and their future success plans hit a snag; but I can also guarantee one thing, Don Waddell had no other choice but to make this deal and somehow add pieces to the puzzle that may just work.
Forwards Nicklas Berfors, prospect Patrice Cormier, and defenseman Johnny Oduya along with a 1st round pick in 2010 were acquired for Ilya Kovalchuk. I think everyone was shocked at first, expecting to see the likes of promising, proven prospects like Wayne Simmonds or Jack Johnson. Hey, maybe even Scott Hartnell or Simon Gagne. Listen, those deals simply were not going to happen. Period, end of story. There were deals supposedly in the works for weeks, but in the end, a large percentage of those deals were merely the fantasies of fans and the media.
This is reality hockey fans, and this is what Don Waddell was faced with and had to do.
Bergfors, a 2005 draft pick from Sweden, has 28 points in his rookie season and had to be a part of any deal involving NJ.
The Captain of Team Canada in the 2010 World Junior Championship, Patrice Cormier, has been suspended the rest of the 2009-2010 season for the elbow to the head of an opposing player, but let’s not let that blind us from the fact that this player has a great skill set, a physical presence, and great size at 6’1 205.
Defensemen Johnny Oduya was a popular player in New Jersey, but hardly a top 3 guy on the blueline. What Oduya will provide Atlanta with is a solid defenseman with great shutdown instincts. He has skating ability, but will never be mistaken for an offensive type player. Oduya is a great teammate and leader, and will make an impact almost immediately in Atlanta.
The 1st round pick will fall in the range of 25th-30th. There are no guarantees here. Waddell has no idea how the chips may fall, but it’s a 1st round pick nonetheless, and it needs to be picked wisely.
If you briefly look back at the Atlanta-Pittsburgh blockbuster trade involving Marian Hossa, only thrashers forward Colby Armstrong plays regularly. Forward Eric Christiansen has bounced around the league and is currently a New York Ranger, and prospect Angelo Esposito is constantly injured. This deal was difficult to accept at the time and still haunts the Thrashers today. This deal also contributes to the irate reaction from fans in Atlanta over the Kovalchuk deal. Rightfully so.
However, the Thrashers have a better mix of players now than they did two years ago. The only problem is, they still aren't winning enough hockey games. Even with Kovie in the lineup, the same problem still exists.
So where do you go from here?
Don Waddell must continue to overhaul this roster. There is a good mix in Atlanta right now, but other moves must be made to improve this roster from top to bottom. The Kovalchuk deal needs to be one of many that will deepen a questionable depth chart.
Kari Lehtonen's days were numbered as he conditioned with Chicago of the AHL, and now they are over. Lehtonen is officially a Dallas Star after a trade that sent the terribly injury-prone, yet still promising goaltender to the Stars in exchange for a 4th round pick in 2010 and up-and-coming defenseman IvanVishnevskiy.
Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg are by no means the long-term tandem moving forward between the pipes. At this point however, Waddell needs to continue to deepen the talent pool in Atlanta, and the two goaltenders he has now, well let's just say it's worked for so far this season.
The Atlanta Thrashers are a game over.500. They are four points removed from the 8th and final playoff spot. With 24 games remaining in the 2009-10 season, the Thrashers ultimate goal is to make the playoffs. It's certainly reachable, and it's not totally far fetched at this point.
Don Waddell will need to continue to find trading partners, and add more pieces to the puzzle in Atlanta. He has learned from past mistakes, and can't afford to make new ones. As this hockey club battles for a playoff spot, players will come and go from now until the March 3rd trade deadline. One thing we can assume at this point, they have a better variety of players now then ever before. That list will grow larger as Don Waddell continues to get the big picture.