Now before I get into the meat of this post, I want to make it clear that I don’t necessarily think that trading Ilya Kovalchuk made the Atlanta Thrashers automatically better. But I guess that’s what this article is saying, so....take it was you will. The numbers are interesting and speak for themselves.
The Atlanta Thrashers did not make the Ilya Kovalchuk trade out of a will to improve their team for this season; they needed to get some value for a player they would lose to free agency this summer no matter what. The Thrashers have been up and down all season long, actually looking like they might be a top-five team in the East earlier this season. The season went south, and the Thrashers traded, yet again, a superstar player who is one of the best players in the NHL.
Since then, the Thrashers have overcome a near disastrous six-game losing streak and stand on the precipice of knocking the Boston Bruins out of the playoffs.
They also have a better record than the New Jersey Devils since the trade.
Since February 5, the day after the trade was made, Atlanta is 8-6-3 (19 points) and New Jersey is 7-7-2 (16 points). Not exactly a cavernous difference in the records of the two teams, but considering the expectations of the two teams -- and the talent levels involved -- it is a bit alarming.
I also looked at the level of competition between the two during this time, and found that both the Devils and Thrashers faced ten teams total that are playoff-caliber teams (top nine in the conference). The Thrashers currently have a four-game winning streak against four playoff teams in the East.
So what’s the reason for the Thrashers appearing to be playing at the same level or better than the Devils? No specific reason, and it’s most likely a bit of a coincidence. The Thrashers also have a six-game losing streak in that time, so it’s not as if they’ve been playing at a very high level overall since the trade. And they’ve been able to climb back into the playoff race due to some timely losses by the Bruins and Rangers.
Meanwhile the Devils are fighting for the division lead with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the number two seed in the conference. In the short term, it may appear as if the Thrashers have been freed up and are playing better after the trade. Yet I’m willing to be that the Devils have the better long-term success in the playoffs.
Especially if Atlanta sneaks into the playoffs just to come up against the monster that is the Washington Capitals.