Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ministry of trade

Triumvirate of Chevy, Zinger, Noel would each have say in any deal

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SUNRISE, Fla. -- It is not an anniversary anybody in Atlanta -- and certainly not Winnipeg -- will likely celebrate or, perhaps, even remember.

But it was on this date two years ago, Feb. 4, 2010, that the Thrashers/Jets organization made the biggest trade in the franchise's history, shipping all-time leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils in a blockbuster trade that included five players and three draft picks.

The deal is worth revisiting, what with the 2012 NHL trading deadline, Feb. 27, now just under three weeks away and the Jets -- like every other squad in the loop -- debating every scenario that may come across management's desk. And it's worth debating because it hammers home just how hit-and-miss trades can be, particularly those made while under pressure -- Kovalchuk was an impending free agent and had turned down a $100-million contract from the Thrashers -- at this time of year.

Not every deal provides the missing piece for a championship run, nor does it necessarily provide the key pieces as part of a rebuild. Consider this: Kovalchuk and defenceman Anssi Salmela were sent to the Devils as part of a package that netted the Thrashers Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and New Jersey's first-round pick in the 2010 draft. The teams also flipped second-round picks.

Kovalchuk, some two years after the deal, remains the franchise's all-time goals and points leader, but has been less than a point-per-game player for the Devils, who were knocked out of the playoffs in five games the year of the deal and absent from the post-season last year.

Salmela played just 57 games for the Devils and is now in the KHL.

As for what the Thrashers received, Oduya is a regular on the Jet defence, Cormier remains one of the franchise's best prospects while Bergfors is in the KHL. The first-round draft pick that came to Atlanta was shipped to Chicago in the deal that brought Dustin Byfuglien to the Thrashers.

As for the swap of second rounders, the Devils ended up with Jon Merrill, still at the University of Michigan, while the Thrashers sent their pick to the Blackhawks as part of the Byfuglien deal.

The point here is this: As tempted as the Jets may be to make a move in the next three weeks, any deal could have potentially massive implications -- both good and bad -- on a franchise. It's why management has those discussions almost daily during the year and much more often as the deadline approaches. And those chats, Claude Noel confirmed Friday, often include the coach.

"They've asked in previous weeks to give some thoughts to this, give some thought to where we're at, give some thought to what we miss or might need," said Noel after Friday's skate at BankAtlantic Center. "I have a pretty good handle on the team. That's a conversation that will probably take place in another week or so. I think they have a pretty good idea."

On this current Jets road trip there has been a noticeable jump in the number of scouts from other teams taking in the action from the press box as clubs scout what assets the Jets may have. And while GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and assistant GM Craig Heisinger have the final pull on any deal, they will be consulting Noel and his assistants for their feel on how a trade may impact the dressing room.

"I've learned before, just through experience, that my place is to coach the team that I have, their job is to concern themselves with the big picture and manage that," Noel said. "That's the way it has to go because once you cross over and think you have a real handle on things from a management standpoint is when you can get yourselves in trouble. Coaches coach in the moment and managers see longer term. They're better at that.

"I know what we're looking at and what we want to be. Are there people that might be moved? I don't know. I don't concern myself with that. I coach the team and try to see where (a deal) might hurt as far as an internal standpoint, what's the perception of the group going to be like? What are they going to feel? Have we given up or not? Management's very concerned with that, too, because we're right there (playoff range) and we want to stay right there."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 4, 2012 C3

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