Thrashers trade high-scoring Kovalchuk to Devils

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Atlanta traded high-scoring winger Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday after the Thrashers were unable to sign him to a long-term contract, Atlanta General Manager Don Waddell said.

The Thrashers, who said they had offered Kovalchuk a 12-year deal worth $101 million, received rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick in this year's NHL draft from New Jersey.

Russian Kovalchuk, 26, can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, He has 31 goals and 27 assists in 49 games this season for Atlanta.

"It's been a very tough day for all of us with the Thrashers," Waddell told reporters on a conference call.

"He has been a big part of our organization for the last eight years. When you have to trade this type of player there are a lot of emotions.

"But he was too important an asset to let walk away on July 1."

Kovalchuk leaves the Thrashers after setting many offense records for the team who drafted him with the No. 1 pick in 2001. A two-times 50-goal scorer, Kovalchuk has 615 points in 594 career games.

Waddell said the Thrashers' captain was looking for a figure closer to the maximum allowable salary of more than $11 million a year.

"We were willing to go the 12 years but not at that number," said Waddell, adding he was hopeful the young players Atlanta received would ultimately help improve the team.

"It's a bittersweet day but we have to move forward."

The Thrashers, in their 10th season, have made the playoffs just once and were swept in the 2006-07 postseason by the New York Rangers.

Atlanta (24-23-8) are 11th in the Eastern Conference, one point out of the last playoff spot, while the Atlantic division leading Devils (35-18-2) are second in the East behind Washington.

(Reporting by Larry Fine and Jahmal Corner, Editing by Peter Rutherford; To query or comment on this story