The Atlanta Thrashers are no longer worrying about the future. They don't want to wait 'til next year anymore.
It's time to make the playoffs.
With their second deal in two days, the slumping Thrashers acquired rugged forward Keith Tkachuk from the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, giving up right wing Glen Metropolit, a first-round pick in 2007 and two other draft choices.
The Thrashers paid a steep price for Tkachuk, hoping he can stop the free fall that sent them tumbling from first place to a state of desperation as they try to hang on for a spot in the playoffs.
Atlanta is one of only two franchises (Columbus is the other) that has never made the postseason.
"Over the years, we've always been pretty conservative when it comes to trading away picks or prospects. We've always protected the future," Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said. "Well, the future for us is now."
The Thrashers have lost nine of 11 in February, ceding the top spot in the Southeast Division to Tampa Bay. Atlanta (31-23-10) has slipped all the way to sixth in the tightly bunched Eastern Conference, with four other teams within three points.
The top eight make the playoffs.
St. Louis also gets a third-round pick in 2007 and a second-rounder in 2008. If the Thrashers re-sign Tkachuk, who turns 35 next month and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season, they'll owe the Blues another first-rounder in '08.
On Saturday night, the Thrashers gave up top prospect and former first-rounder Braydon Coburn to acquire 34-year-old defenseman Alexei Zhitnik from Philadelphia - another move that was all about the present.
Waddell, whose job could be on the line if Atlanta falls short of the playoffs, said he's not concerned about mortgaging the future for a run at the postseason.
"We have a very good crop of young players that we've already drafted who will be coming up over the next several years," said Waddell, the team's general manager since it entered the NHL in 1999. "That's why we felt we could afford to give up some draft picks along with Braydon Coburn."
With so many potential playoff teams looking to upgrade, the Thrashers decided not to wait until Tuesday's 3 p.m. (EST) trade deadline and hope to give up less.
"The race in the East is very tight," Waddell said. "A lot of teams are trying to add, not delete. We know there's a lot of teams out there still trying to make a deal. We had great competition for Keith."
Tkachuk has 20 goals and 23 assists in 61 games, ranking second on the Blues with 43 points. He waived a no-trade clause to join the Thrashers.
"It makes me feel good that they wanted me that bad," Tkachuk said. "I feel confident that I can go in there and help out. We all want to accomplish the same goal - everyone wants to win the Stanley Cup. I'm ready to take that journey."
Tkachuk, a left wing in St. Louis, will play center for the Thrashers, who already have talented wings such as Marian Hossa (79 points), Ilya Kovalchuk (33 goals) and Slava Kozlov (63 points) but desperately need help up the middle.
"My game is pretty simple," Tkachuk said. "When you're playing with guys like that, you know the puck is eventually going to be at the net. My job is to be at the net and try to get those garbage goals."
Atlanta's top-scoring centers, Eric Belanger and Bobby Holik, each have only 24 points.
Tkachuk is a four-time All-Star who has eight seasons with at least 30 goals. He's also been a stalwart for the U.S. national team, playing four times in the Olympics and twice in the Hockey World Cup.
He already was at the airport, preparing to board a flight to join the Thrashers for Monday night's game at Boston.
"This is crunch time, there's no question about it," Tkachuk said. "This is a big move by Atlanta. They're putting in on the line with me coming there. I expect to go in there and do the right things on and off the ice. We just want to get in the playoffs. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen."
Metropolit, 32, has 12 goals and 16 assists in 57 games with Atlanta this season. He was the team's fifth-leading scorer.
The Blues, who finished last in the NHL last season, were 11th in the Western Conference and 12 points out of the final playoff spot. St. Louis also was considering offers for Bill Guerin, who leads the team with 28 goals and can also be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
"We're going to look at every avenue with Bill and try to determine what makes the most sense," team president John Davidson said. "There is interest, there's no question."
While the Blues have surged since hiring Andy Murray as coach in mid-December, they don't have much hope of making the playoffs.
Still, Tkachuk's former teammates were disappointed by the trade. They played poorly in their first game without him, losing 5-1 at Chicago on Sunday.
"It stinks," said Doug Weight, who was traded by the Blues a year ago but returned to St. Louis after helping Carolina win the Stanley Cup. "We've been competing hard and have been successful as a team. We've been feeling good coming to the rink."