New Jersey Devils Ilya Kovalchuk
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Although his eventual retirement changed his narrative with the New Jersey Devils, trading for Ilya Kovalchuk was massive for the franchise.

Kyle McKenna

Oops, Lou did it again.

The New Jersey Devils and then-general manager Lou Lamoriello took the NHL’s breath away after Jersey’s team acquired forward Ilya Kovalchuk from the defunct Atlanta Thrashers in February 2010.

The blockbuster deal not only triggered a signal that the Devils were all-in on contending for a fourth Stanley Cup championship, but completely shocked the hockey community. While the Russian superstar broke fans’ hearts just three seasons later, let’s revisit the Devils’ massive trade for Kovalchuk.

Prior to the trade, New Jersey was on pace to earn its ninth division title and was bidding for another franchise record for wins in a season (51, 2008-09). Still, the Devils ranked towards the bottom of the league for goals scored and it was apparent they were in need of another superstar on offense to complement Zach Parise.

The reality is that NHL teams need superstar prowess in all areas on the ice to compete for Lord Stanley — it’s not up for discussion.

Lamoriello pulled the trigger on the Kovalchuk deal and turned back the clock to the days when he completed notable trades, which sent the Devils into the playoffs as Cup favorites.

What were the details of the trade?

New Jersey acquired Kovalchuk and reacquired defenseman Anssi Salmela in addition to a 2010 second-round draft pick. Atlanta’s second favorite hockey team off all-time then received Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, Johnny Oduya, plus a first- and second-round draft pick in the 2010 draft.

Fans might be wondering: Who were Bergfors and Cormier?

Bergfors was a top prospect for New Jersey at the time and so was Cormier. The latter was selected during the second round at the 2008 NHL Draft. As for Oduya, he established himself as a top-tier blueliner for New Jersey and eventually won two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks.

If anything, Oduya was the only player that offered any value for the Thrashers after the trade.

Bergfors retired from the NHL after the 2011-12 season and only dressed in 79 career games with Atlanta, while Cormier skated in fewer than 40 contests in the NHL.

Atlanta’s 2010 first-round pick ended up being Kevin Hayes, but most fans are aware he didn’t skate in the league until joining the New York Rangers in 2014-15. The second-round pick turned out as a no-name skater, and it seemed that the Devils were the clear-cut winners from the massive trade.

Kovalchuk ran with the Devils until the end of the 2012-13 campaign before shockingly retiring and leaving New Jersey for Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Fans recall that “Kovy” recorded an impressive 2011-12 season, which also played a big part for New Jersey advancing to its fifth Stanley Cup Final appearance.

No. 17 earned 201 points in 222 regular-season contests with the Devils and recorded back-to-back 30-goal campaigns in 2010-11 and 2011-12 — whether it stings or not, he was good. Sorry, Jersey.

While New Jersey arguably should have never signed Kovalchuk to his massive 15-year deal in the 2010 offseason, the winger does go down as one of the biggest steals in franchise history and one of the most talented players to ever lace up the skates with the Devils.

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