'A big price to pay'

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

It's game on in the race to the NHL trade deadline.

After the Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell pulled off a blockbuster deal by sending three draft picks and winger Glen Metropolit to the St. Louis Blues for Keith Tkachuk early yesterday, trade talk reached new heights around the league.

Waddell's move sent several GMs scrambling for the phones as tomorrow's 3 p.m. deadline draws closer. Blues winger Bill Guerin is now considered the top jewel left on the market, with 2-3 teams considered top contenders to land the unrestricted free agent.

"There's a lot of talk," one NHL GM told the Sun last night. "The phones are ringing off the hook."

Nobody is sure if there's going to be a flurry of deals at the deadline because of the high asking prices and the salary cap, but it's certain Waddell's bombshell was good for telephone company business across North America.

"A lot of guys are worried after what Waddell did," added another GM. "They thought the prices would drop by now and they haven't come down.

"Guys are still giving up the No. 1 picks and players to get unrestricted free agents. It's a big price to pay."

Trying to make the playoffs and save his job, Waddell dealt No. 1 and No. 3 picks in 2007 along with a No. 2 and Metropolit to the Blues for Tkachuk. If the Thrashers bring the 34-year-old veteran back next season, they'll also fork over a No. 1 pick in 2008.

"For us, the price was not the issue," said Waddell in a conference call with reporters. "St. Louis will be able to put those picks to good use. Yes, this was a big price to pay, but we'll find out at the end if it was worth it. Ask me after the playoffs."

Waddell said he doesn't expect the market to drop before the deadline. The number of sellers is limited because several teams are still involved in playoff races in the East and West.

"There's a price that you have to pay and the prices are pretty high," said Waddell. "They haven't dropped yet, but the market was set. There's still a number of players out there."

The Thrashers have been struggling lately, but Waddell is loading up for the franchise's first playoff run. Late Saturday, he acquired defenceman Alexei Zhitnik from the Philadelphia Flyers for prospect Braydon Coburn.

That has sent shivers into a lot of offices in the East. GMs like Ottawa's John Muckler, Tampa's Jay Feaster, Buffalo's Darcy Regier, Toronto's John Ferguson Jr. and Montreal's Bob Gainey must now decide how they're going to react.

A source said Muckler has called the Blues about Guerin, but the Senators aren't considered one of the serious contenders. Guerin would be a nice fit here and many teams believe he has more value than Tkachuk, which means the Blues are going to hold out for what they want.

"There's some belief if St. Louis doesn't get what they need for Guerin, then they'll keep him and try to sign him to a two-year contract in the off-season," said another league executive. "He's worked well for them and they don't feel it's going to take them much to get to the playoffs."


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