The Atlanta Thrashers shipped superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday several hours after general manager Don Waddell announced Kovalchuk had turned down several deals, including one for 12 years and $101 million. Heading back to Atlanta in the deal are defenseman Johnny Oduya, right wing Nicklas Bergfors, forward Patrice Cormier and a first-round draft pick. The Thrashers also sent defenseman Anssi Salmela to New Jersey as part of the deal. Several teams were rumored to be in the sweepstakes for Kovalchuk, who is in the last year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Among those interested were thought to be Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, the New York Rangers and Boston. Kovalchuk now goes from a team that has made the playoffs just once over his eight-year career to a team that has won the Atlantic Division in three of the past four seasons. The Devils currently sit atop the division and are second overall in the Eastern Conference. A two-time 50-goal scorer, the 26-year-old is on his way to eclipsing that mark again with 31 goals and 27 assists through his first 49 games this season. His 328 goals leads the NHL since his entrance into the league as the top pick in 2001 draft. The three-time All-Star has totaled 328 goals and 287 assists in 594 career games for Atlanta.
The Los Angeles Clippers announced on Thursday that head coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy was relieved of his coaching duties. Dunleavy will remain in the front office, focusing exclusively on the team's personnel matters. Assistant coach Kim Hughes will immediately take over as interim head coach, and will retain the position through the remainder of the season. The mutual decision came following a meeting at the club's Playa Vista Training Center. Dunleavy became the head coach of the Clippers in 2003 and led the club to a 28-54 mark that year. However, he would improve upon that mark in each of the next two seasons. A 37-45 season in 2004-05 was followed by a 47-35 mark the following year -- good for second in the Pacific Division -- though LA lost in the Western Conference semifinals in its first playoff appearance in nine seasons. The Clippers' record dropped every year from that point on, culminating with a miserable 19-63 record last season. Entering play Thursday, the Clippers held a 21-28 record.
New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul will miss four-to-six weeks after undergoing successful arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Thursday to repair a meniscal tear. The surgery was performed in Pensacola, Florida by Dr. James Andrews. Paul will be on crutches for the next two-to-three weeks and will start rehabilitation immediately. Paul initially twisted his knee during last Wednesday's game against Golden State, then hurt it further on Friday against Chicago while trying to save a ball from going out of bounds. He sat out the subsequent three games against Memphis, Phoenix and Oklahoma City.
The Detroit Tigers have locked up right-hander Justin Verlander with a five- year contract, the team announced Thursday. The deal is worth a reported $80 million, according to multiple media outlets. It covers Verlander's last two seasons of arbitration and first three years of potential free agency. Verlander went 19-9 with a 3.45 ERA last season, when he also topped the majors with 269 strikeouts and 240 innings pitched. The AL Rookie of the Year in 2006, Verlander is a two-time All-Star selection (2007, 2009) and has finished in the top-10 of AL Cy Young voting on three occasions. In 132 career starts, Verlander owns a 65-43 record with a 3.92 ERA, six complete games and three shutouts. Over 840 innings, he has fanned 746 and walked 282.
The Chicago Cubs have agreed to a one-year contract with closer Carlos Marmol, avoiding arbitration. Marmol heads into the 2010 season as the Cubs' closer, having taken over that role last August and going 11-for-11 in save opportunities from that point on. Overall in 2009, Marmol posted a 3.41 earned run average in 79 appearances, and converted 15 of 19 save chances. The Cubs also signed infielder Kevin Millar to a minor league contract, which includes an invitation to spring training. Millar played in 78 games last season for Toronto, hitting .223 with a .311 on-base percentage, seven homers and 29 RBI. Over 12 seasons with Florida, Boston, Baltimore and the Blue Jays, Millar is a career .274 hitter with a .358 OBP, 170 homers and 699 RBI.
The Minnesota Twins and free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson have agreed to a one-year contract. The three-time Gold Glove winner and 2007 All-Star appeared in 149 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers a year ago and hit .283 with nine home runs, 62 runs batted in and 74 runs scored. Hudson also had trouble finding a home last offseason following a terrific 2008 with the Arizona Diamondbacks that saw him bat a career high .305 with a .367 on-base percentage, 54 runs scored, eight home runs and 41 runs batted in over 107 games. However, his 2008 season was cut short by surgery to repair a dislocated wrist and Hudson lost his job to Ronnie Belliard late in 2009, seeing just four plate appearances in the Dodgers' playoff run. The 32-year- old switch hitter has a lifetime .282 average with a .348 on-base percentage, 493 runs scored, 77 homers and 434 RBI in 1,014 career games with Toronto, Arizona and Los Angeles.
The ankle of Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney continues to be a major story at the Super Bowl in Miami. Freeney said again Thursday the ankle is improving, but the Pro Bowl star is still unsure if he will be able to play on Sunday against New Orleans. He is not expected to practice this week, but said he's likely to test the ankle Friday and Saturday.
The Buffalo Bills on Thursday named George Edwards, who was hired last month by the University of Florida, defensive coordinator. Edwards was named the Gators' defensive coordinator on January 8, but was offered and accepted the same position on Chan Gailey's Bills staff. He had spent the last five seasons with the Dolphins as linebackers coach before taking the job at Florida.
Dustin Johnson fired a seven-under 64 on Thursday to lead the Northern Trust Open, while two-time defending champion Phil Mickelson ditched his controversial wedge and labored to a 72. Johnson, a two-time PGA Tour winner who likes the way Riviera fits his eye, had seven birdies in a flawless first round to take a one-shot lead over Kevin Stadler and Argentina's Andres Romero. Ricky Barnes and Brandt Snedeker were another stroke further back at 66, while Steve Stricker, Cameron Beckman and Steve Lowery each shot 67s. A talented group at 68 included Ernie Els, David Duval, Rory Sabbatini, Jesper Parnevik, Scott Verplank, Stephen Ames, Luke Donald and 18-year-old Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa.
Defensemen Tim Gleason and Ryan Whitney were added to the USA Olympic Hockey team on Thursday. Gleason, from the Carolina Hurricanes, and Whitney, from the Anaheim Ducks, take the spots of Mike Komisarek and Paul Martin, both of whom withdrew because of injuries. Team USA opens Group A play against Switzerland on February 16.