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Waddell says Thrashers not 'packing it in'

ATLANTA - Don Waddell insists he didn't give up on making the playoffs when he gave up on re-signing Marian Hossa, one of the best players in the Atlanta Thrashers' young history.

Hossa and Pascal Dupuis were traded to Pittsburgh Tuesday for a package that makes Waddell's roster younger, but the Thrashers' general manager and interim coach says more veterans would have left town if he had given up on this season.

'We didn't trade any of our other unrestricted free agents, Bobby Holik, Mark Recchi, there are other guys we could have traded for something,' Waddell said Wednesday. 'But we're not ready to give up on anything. We've got 18 games left.

'We need to have a good run, there's no doubt about it. But if we were just packing it in for the season we would have looked at it much differently, maybe we could have gotten a couple more first-round picks.'

The forgiving Southeast Division has allowed Atlanta (29-31-4) and other teams hovering around .500 to remain in playoff contention. The Thrashers have lost four straight to fall to fourth in the division and second-to-last in the Eastern Conference, ending hopes of re-signing Hossa.

Waddell said Hossa, who can be a free agent after the season, turned down Atlanta's 'multiple' contract offers and never made a counter proposal.

'We were never in a position where we had to say no or yes,' Waddell said. 'I would have liked to have been in a position, no matter where the number was, where we at least had to make a decision.

'He had played this many years to become an unrestricted free agent and to test the market right now and play where he wants to play.'

Waddell said he might approach Hossa, 29, again if the All-Star forward enters free agency. Waddell couldn't afford losing Hossa and getting nothing in return.

The Thrashers obtained forwards Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, who will play in Thursday night's home game against the New York Islanders, as well as 2007 first-round pick Angelo Esposito and the Penguins' 2008 first-round pick.

Waddell said he might have drafted Esposito last year if he had not traded his 2007 first-round pick at the trade deadline. Esposito was the 20th pick of the draft.

Waddell also said it was important to gain the flexibility of possibly trading the newly acquired 2008 first-round pick, but he said the most important additions were Armstrong, 25, and Christensen, 24.

'The current players played a bigger role in getting this deal done than the other pieces,' Waddell said.

The Thrashers canceled their Wednesday morning practice. The team arrived in Atlanta about 4 a.m. on Wednesday after Tuesday night's 5-1 loss at Montreal.

Armstrong and Christensen held a two-man workout at the Thrashers' practice facility.

Waddell said he might tinker with a line that includes Ilya Kovalchuk, Todd White and Recchi.

Armstrong, a right winger, had 9 goals and 15 assists in 54 games with Pittsburgh. Christensen, who is listed as a center but can play any forward position, had 9 goals and 11 assists.

'It's a good opportunity for Erik and myself to come in here and try to win some games here,' Armstrong said. 'We've got some time left here to make a push and that's exciting. Hopefully we can help.'

Armstrong, who had some playing time in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby, may be given a chance to join Kovalchuk.

'Even though he's a few years younger than me, I think he made me a better player,' said Armstrong of Crosby. 'I learned some things from him, playing with him on a line at times, and it's great to be around great players like that who make you better.

'(Kovalchuk) is an electrifying player for sure. Coming to a team who has a guy like that, it's exciting for sure.'

The Thrashers play at Pittsburgh on Sunday.

'It's going to be pretty crazy,' Armstrong said. 'It will be pretty weird coming down the tunnel and going to the other side of the ice in that rink. It's going to be different playing against your friends like that but when you step on the ice there's no friends. We'll be going for two points. That will be the main goal there.'

Added Christensen: 'It will be awkward, probably, but exciting.'