So how does a team go from 10th place in the East last season to sixth this year after losing the greatest player their franchise has ever had; a guy who has scored 40 goals six seasons in a row?By operating as a small market team should. The Atlanta Thrashers, winners of six straight, got as much as they could out of Ilya Kovalchuk, but it was abundantly clear that he had no intentions of staying in Atlanta, nor could the Thrashers afford to pay him.
So, instead of waiting until he became a free agent, they spun him off before last year’s trade deadline and picked up Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, and a first-round pick in return.
They then turned that pick, a couple prospects, spare parts, and the significant amount of money they saved by dumping Kovalchuk, into a handful of members of the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, whom Chicago couldn’t afford to keep.
Those guys they poached? They’ve been pretty productive for Atlanta. Dustin Byfuglien leads the NHL in points by a defenseman with 27 and newly anointed captain Andrew Ladd has eight goals and 17 assists. Bergfors also has six goals and 10 assists and Oduya is second on the club in ice time.
And Kovalchuk, who made this all possible, has destroyed the New Jersey Devils’ salary cap situation and on-ice chemistry. He has four goals and 10 points on the season; 39 defensemen have more.
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