When I saw the trade of Ilya Kovalchuk pop up on Twitter late on a Sunday night before the Monday trade deadline, my first reaction was that it was fake.
It came out of nowhere, like most trades that Marc Bergevin makes as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens. The return, at first glance, was underwhelming. Marco Scandella returned a second-round pick. People were thinking the same for Kovalchuk, maybe even a first-round pick.
In the end it was a third-round pick from a team that is likely to pick late in the round.
I see it a different way. I look at the destination: Washington, a place with a lot of Russian players. Washington, an organization with a salary cap so tight Montreal had to retain 50% of his league-minimum salary. Washington, a place where he can win the Stanley Cup.
There was a lot of talk about Montreal negotiating with Kovalchuk. There were numbers thrown out publicly. And yet this trade was done the day before the deadline.
Kovalchuk, of course, will be a free agent on July 1. It is entirely possible that Bergevin let him pick his destination. Not just a contender, but which contender. Kovalchuk now knows what it is like to play hockey in Montreal. He knows what a prospective contract will look like. He knows that Bergevin keeps his word.
So yes, the Canadiens got a third-round pick for Kovalchuk. The trade means there’s a chance he will never play another game for the team. The trade doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end, either.