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Thrashers look at return on their investment

by Mike G. Morreale

"We exhausted all opportunities to keep him and we knew we were coming to that point of making a decision. It was tough, but the end result was we felt we couldn't let an asset like that just walk away for nothing at the end of the year. We had to get something for him."
-- Don Waddell

It remains one of most difficult decisions General Manager Don Waddell has faced as general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers.

Just minutes before the trade deadline last Feb. 26, Waddell finally signed off on a trade involving Marian Hossa, a player who had scored 108 goals and 248 points in 222 games with Atlanta. Waddell sent the four-time All-Star, who would be an unrestricted free agent at season's end, and winger Pascal Dupuis to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and the Penguins' 2008 first-round draft choice, the No. 29 choice, which they used on forward Daultan Leveille.

"We exhausted all opportunities to keep him and we knew we were coming to that point of making a decision," Waddell told "It was tough, but the end result was we felt we couldn't let an asset like that just walk away for nothing at the end of the year. We had to get something for him."

Hossa has since swapped his Penguins jersey for a Detroit Red Wings model. On Friday, the 29-year-old right wing will renew acquaintances with Waddell and the Thrashers when the teams meet at Joe Louis Arena at 7:30 p.m. ET.

"Marian turned down a lot of money to go to a team he thought would give him the best chance to compete and win a Stanley Cup," Waddell said. "I was a little surprised when he didn't re-sign with Pittsburgh since they did go to the Stanley Cup Final, but I know in his heart he wanted to have an opportunity to compete for the Cup. I'm assuming he chose Detroit since they won the Cup last year and had almost the same team returning.

"The way he handled the situation here in Atlanta was very professional; he played hard for this organization from the moment he got here (in a trade with Ottawa on Aug. 23, 2005) to the day we traded him," Waddell said. "He was up front during the whole process on what he wanted to do and what he wanted to accomplish in his career."

The debate will rage over whether Waddell received fair compensation for Hossa.

"We definitely wanted to get guys who were not only going to help us at the time, but moving forward into the future," Waddell said. "We felt these players were good NHL players that we could develop, insert into our lineup and continue to build around."

Through 6 NHL games this season, the 24-year-old Christensen has 1 assist and a 53.6 faceoff winning percentage while averaging 16:51 of ice time. He posted 24 points in 59 games with Pittsburgh and Atlanta last season, and missed the final 8 games with a knee injury.

Armstrong, 25, is an alternate captain this season, and has 2 goals while averaging 15:02 of ice time in 6 games. He finished 2007-08 with 8 multiple-point games, including 6 with Pittsburgh, to end the season with 13 goals and 35 points in 72 games.

"Erik missed so much time last year because of his injuries, but I can see that he's been improving each game and his skill set is starting to come through," Waddell said. "Colby is one of our assistant captains because he's a true warrior and good leader."

"That's just the way I try and play at both ends of the ice," Armstrong told "I kind of pride myself on battling in those tough areas in front of the net. If that's what it takes to lead game in and game out, then that's what I'll do. We have a young team so everyone has to lead in their own way, but it's a great honor to be named an alternate captain and I'll lead the best I can."

Armstrong admitted he was a little stunned at the time of the trade.

"I was drafted by Pittsburgh (No. 21 in 2001) and spent 4 years in their minor-league system, so it was a bit of a shock at first," Armstrong said. "You go from knowing guys you've become good friends with to heading to an airport that night to a different place to meet a bunch of new guys. Me and Erik (Christensen) caught the same flight to Atlanta and talked about everything, and when we got here, Mark Recchi, who we knew from Pittsburgh, was there to pick us up at the airport and show us around and meet everyone.

"It was intimidating at first because you're going into a new locker room with a bunch of different players and the fact they had just lost one of their top guys (Hossa) and we were there replacing him felt a little weird. But the guys made the transition an easy one for me."

Esposito, 19, was the Penguins' 2007 first-round pick (No. 20). He signed a contract with the Thrashers in July, but was sent back to his junior club Sept. 27. Now in his fourth season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Esposito has 2 goals and 9 points in 8 games with the Montreal Juniors.

"Angelo isn't that far off," Waddell said. "He had a good training camp with us and has been through a lot the last few years. He was projected to be a high draft pick, but slid and then was traded, so that's a lot happening in the life of a teenager. But now that the draft is behind him and he is signed, he needs to have some fun. He hasn't had a lot of fun playing hockey lately, so we told him to go have a year in juniors and prepare for the NHL. I think he's going to compete for a job next year, without question."

Hossa had 10 points in 12 regular-season games in Pittsburgh after the trade, but it was during the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs that he really flourished. In 20 games, he finished second on the team with 26 points.

He jumped to Detroit, the team that beat the Penguins in last spring's Final, and in 6 games, has a goal and 6 points, and a team-high plus-4 rating while averaging just under 18 minutes of ice time. His single goal, on Oct. 19 against the Rangers, was a memorable one -- an overtime score that was the 300th of his NHL career.

"We're really looking forward to the game with Detroit," Armstrong said. "They're the defending champion and have a lot of big names who we young guys look up to. We'll have to have our best effort, for sure. I think we're getting better every game but, at the same time, we know it'll be a big challenge."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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