I remember back in high school, sitting at the computer hacking away at yet another essay, all the while secretly pining for a new PlayStation, which had just been released. It looked fantastic, and I knew I would enjoy it.
My mother, seeing the gleam in my eye, said, "you know, you could always just save your money now and buy the newer, fancier version later on and be just as happy if not moreso."
I took her advice, tucked the intended money away, and have been watching that savings grow after tacking on the profit from selling my brand new PlayStation 3 on eBay. Maybe someday I might actually get a system I'll use, but that's beside the point.
Atlanta Thrashers general manager Doug Waddell may need my mother to give him the same lesson about delayed gratification. He has been in Atlanta for seven seasons, living and dying right along with every other resident of the city willing to pull themselves away from NASCAR long enough to watch a hockey game.
The team was born in recent pre-lockout history, when the good teams threw big money at their stars to protect them, making the first few years of Thrashers hockey rather rough to watch, since it was a team made partly of decent draft picks, but mostly of cast-offs from the rest of the league. Accordingly, the Thrashers never really amounted to much, posting a 120-229-45-20 record in their first five seasons and gradually progressing from a bunch of ragamuffins to an almost-average hockey team.
The team continued to languish during the lockout season, with the extra gut punch of being the intended All-Star site for that cancelled season.
In spite of all that futility, and rumblings that Atlanta (like Nashville and Raleigh) was a city where hockey would never escape NASCAR's looming shadow, things began to look up for the Thrashers when hockey resumed.
Altanta went out and nabbed free agent forwards Marian Hossa, Peter Bondra, and Bobby Holik, mixed them together with their existing talent (Kovalchuk, Savard, and Kozlov), and created an offensive juggernaut (T-5th goals scored). Unfortunately, a lack of consistent defense or goaltending (23rd goals allowed) bit them on the butt and left them on the outside looking in, missing the playoffs by two points.
The season may have been a brutal reality, but it showed that Atlanta wasn't terribly far off from where they needed to be. Atlanta chose not to make any significant moves before the 2007 season, hoping that getting stud goalie Kari Lehtonen healthy would make a significant enough improvement.
The strategy seemed to pay off, as the Thrashers came firing out of the gate with a 12-3-3 record and a big lead on the rest of their division. The Thrashers then cooled off and became very streaky, rattling off two five-game winning streaks and two five-game losing streaks to hit the All-Star break a noticeably less flaming 27-15-8.
Things would only get worse for Atlanta from there, as Atlanta went 2-7-2 in their final 11 games before the trade deadline. At this point, Waddell apparently grew weary of everyone and their mother yelling "will you please do something already?"
He did something, alright, but here's where I come to my point. In two swift moves, Waddell gave away Braydon Coburn, his first and third round picks in the upcoming draft, and a second round pick the year after (along with another conditional pick). In return, Waddell got Alexei Zhitnik and Keith Tkachuk.
This seems like a decent enough deal. It was widely regarded that the "almost there" components Atlanta needed for the playoffs were an established defensive presence, special teams help, and a true center for their top line who could also provide a vocal veteran presence, and that is exactly what Atlanta received.
However, it was also apparent to all that in making this deal, Waddell and Atlanta were putting themselves in a bit of a "now or never" situation. Waddell was under pressure because his team had yet to make the playoffs in its brief history, and he was trying to accomplish just that in order to appease his fan base, among others. In doing so, he gave up his #1 pick from three years ago and at least three draft picks over the next two years, which meant that if Atlanta didn't succeed this year, it was not likely to improve their position drastically in the immediate future.