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Thrashers transformed overnight with Tkachuk and Zhitnik deals

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Thrashers transformed overnight with Tkachuk and Zhitnik deals

The Canadian Press
By:

"Some people are going to say it's too much," the Atlanta Thrashers GM said. "You know what? Talk to me at the end of the year about it."

Waddell transformed his team over the weekend, signalling that the future is now for a Thrashers team trying to make the playoffs for the first time in its history.

He acquired star forward Keith Tkachuk from the St. Louis Blues on Sunday in exchange for a first-round draft choice in 2007, a third-round draft choice in 2007, a second-round draft choice in 2008 and journeyman forward Glen Metropolit.

The trade came after Waddell picked up veteran defenceman Alexei Zhitnik from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for young defenceman Braydon Coburn on Saturday.

"The first deal, truthfully, we really needed a defenceman and I really wanted to get that done," Waddell told The Canadian Press. "Then I knew what I had in terms of assets to put a package together for Keith. I called (Blues GM) Larry Pleau after I was done the Philly deal and we started talking even more and more late into the night about getting this deal done."

Tkachuk fills the No. 1 need for Atlanta since training camp began: a No. 1 centre.

"He's a top-line guy," said Waddell. "He brings competitiveness to our team, he plays with grit. And our intention right off the bat is to play him with (Ilya) Kovalchuk. We think they can make things happen."

Much like their expansion cousins in Nashville (Atlanta came in one year after the Predators), the Thrashers have been stockpiling draft picks and prospects over the years and felt it was finally time to sacrifice some of them because they felt their window of opportunity was at hand. The Predators gave up a sizeable package for Peter Forsberg and Atlanta did the same for Tkachuk.

"We've been very protective of our draft picks," said Waddell. "We have a very good crop of young players.

"We think we have some premier players. And in the last two days we've added 2,000 games of experience and about 175 playoff games. You're adding veteran guys and that will really help us down the stretch here."

Unlike the Predators, the Thrashers aren't challenging for the conference lead. They've struggled in the second half of the season and sit only two points ahead of ninth-place Montreal in the East. The pressure was on Waddell to salvage what had been such a promising season.

When Anaheim made a trade with Tampa Bay on Saturday to acquire a first-round pick, Waddell knew the stakes had been raised. The Ducks and Detroit Red Wings were also believed to be in on Tkachuk with Tuesday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline fast approaching.

"We knew we had serious contenders and bidders for the player," said Waddell. "At the end of the day we felt this was a price we were willing to pay."

Should Tkachuk, an unrestricted free agent July 1, re-sign with the Thrashers, the Blues also get a first-round draft pick in 2008. But that was the last thing on Waddell's mind Sunday.

"Let's let the chips fall here and see how things go. Let's see what success we have and how he likes it here. Obviously he has a young family ..."

Tkachuk had 43 points (20-23) and 92 penalty minutes in 61 games with the Blues this season. Metropolit, 32, had 28 points (12-16) in 57 games with the Thrashers this season.

The Ducks and Red Wings, meanwhile, will now focus on Bill Guerin, another Blues winger slated for unrestricted free agency July 1. The New York Islanders are also believed to have interest in the veteran.

"We're going to look at every avenue with Bill and try to determine what makes the most sense," Blues president John Davidson said Sunday on a media conference call. "We'll find out if he wants to re-sign and what it would take financially and in term. We also have to look at what the market place is going to bear for Bill. There is interest, there's no question. He's been a valuable asset for us. We also know that players leaving us have the option of doing whatever they want in the off-season."

In other words, should Guerin be dealt before Tuesday, both he and Tkachuk could return as Blues in July, which isn't out of the question because both of them enjoy living in St. Louis.

It was a busy weekend for the Blues as well, on Saturday re-signing defenceman Eric Brewer to a US$17-million, four-year contract and goalie Manny Legace to a $4.3-million, two-year deal. Brewer had been a popular targets from other teams in trade talks because he was a pending unrestricted free agent.

Also this weekend, the Los Angeles Kings removed a big name from the trade market in Rob Blake. The veteran defenceman had meetings with Kings GM Dean Lombardi on Friday and Saturday and the two mutually agreed that he would be part of the rebuilding program. Blake has a no-trade clause and controls his fate but Lombardi wanted to make sure the star blue-liner understood where things were headed. The Kings see Blake as a valuable mentor when highly touted prospect Jack Johnson joins them on the blue-line next fall.

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Thrashers transformed overnight with Tkachuk and Zhitnik deals