Future is now for Thrashers

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

Don Waddell was going to roll the dice, no matter what the price.

And for those critics who feel he sold the farm in order to acquire veterans Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik this past weekend, the personable general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers has a message for you.

"Over the years, we have been concerned with preserving our prospects and picks," Waddell said during a conference call yesterday. "We've always watched out for our future. Well, our future is now.

"Some people will say it's too much. Well, talk to me at the end of the year about it."

By adding Tkachuk and Zhitnik to an already talent-rich team that features stars like Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov, Waddell is telling the rest of the Eastern Conference that he believes this could be the Year of the Thrash.

Going for it all doesn't come cheap however.

Young defenceman Braydon Coburn went to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Zhitnik deal, while Tkachuk cost Waddell a first- and third-round pick in the 2007 entry draft, a second-rounder in 2008 and forward Glen Metropolit.

A first-round selection in 2008 also goes to St. Louis if Tkachuk, a pending unrestricted free agent, re-signs with the Thrashers during the off-season.

"Given what he gave up, it's obvious Don must have wanted him a lot," Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster said.

Obviously the cost of landing big-name rent-a-players is steep, judging by the Tkachuk and Peter Forsberg deals. And Waddell will not be surprised if the bar remains high right up to the trade deadline tomorrow afternoon.

"The standings are tight so I think the price has been established," Waddell said.

Sure enough, several hours after Waddell made that statement, the San Jose Sharks were willing to cough up a first-round pick and promising blue-liner Josh Gorges, 22, to the Montreal Canadiens for veteran defenceman Craig Rivet and a future fifth-rounder.

Rivet is a steady defenceman, but he's hardly a Norris Trophy candidate. And he's eligible to be an unrestricted free agent come the summer.

In other words, the Sharks, like the Thrashers, were willing to overpay yesterday in order to tell the hockey world that they are going for it all this year.

No matter how steep the price.

DIXIE CALLING

Tkachuk wasted no time in waiving his no-trade clause with the Blues in order to join the Thrashers, a team he, like Waddell, feels can go deep into the playoffs.

Part of the allure was a number of conversations Tkachuk had with Thrashers captain Scott Mellanby. The two were one-time teammates in St. Louis.

"Once the rumours started about Atlanta a few weeks ago, I started talking to Scott," said Tkachuk, who was preparing to board a plane to Boston to join his teammate's for tonight game against the Bruins.

"He keeps you on your toes."

Asked about what Atlanta gave up to acquire him, Tkachuk said he took it as a compliment.

"It makes me feel good that they wanted me that bad," he said.

FLASHY FUTURE IN PHILLY

As pathetic as the once-proud Flyers have looked at times this season, give general manager Paul Holmgren credit for the stable of young hockey studs he has compiled by trading away veterans Zhitnik and Forsberg.

In dealing Zhitnik to the Thrashers Saturday, Holmgren landed the highly coveted Coburn, the eighth-overall pick in the 2003 draft who represented Canada at the 2004 world junior. Just 21 years old, the 6-foot-5 blue-liner has his best years ahead of him.

So, too, do forward Scotty Upshall and defenceman Ryan Parent, the two prospects picked up from Nashville in the Forsberg deal.

Upshall, a member of Canada's 2004 world junior team, scored three goals in his first two games as a Flyer. Parent, meanwhile, won back-to-back gold medals for Canada at the 2005 and '06 world junior.

Adding Coburn, Upshall and Parent to a gaggle of young guns that already includes Michael Richards, Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger gives the Flyers an outstanding foundation upon which to rebuild.

Given the fact he also got first- and third-round picks in the 2007 draft as part of the Forsberg swap, Holmgren deserves a thumbs up for his wheeling and dealing.

THE WEEK AHEAD

The Canadiens play host to the Maple Leafs tonight in a game between two teams fighting for the final playoff spot in the East ... The Maple Leafs and Darcy Tucker continue to make progress on a new contract extension. At this point it would be surprising if an agreement is not reached.


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