Waddell misplayed Kovalchuk deal: Milbury

Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell got taken on the Ilya Kovalchuk deal, Hockey Night in Canada analyst Mike Milbury told the Hotstove segment on Saturday night.

Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell got taken on the Ilya Kovalchuk deal, Hockey Night in Canada analyst Mike Milbury told the Hotstove segment on Saturday night.

Kovalchuk was dealt, along with Anssi Salmela, to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday for defenceman Johnny Oduya, rookie Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round draft pick.

Milbury was highly critical of the Thrashers' GM, and doesn't believe Waddell got fair value in return for his star.

"I think he misplayed his hand, and I think he badly misplayed his hand," Milbury said.

Waddell was unable to reach a deal in the off-season on a contract extension with Kovalchuk, who is set to become an unrestricted free-agent this summer. Milbury believed Waddell hastily pulled the trigger on a deal, with the March 3 trade deadline approaching.

"I don't think he shopped it on time, and I don't think he shopped it properly," Milbury said.

Waddell didn't allow other teams to talk to Kovalchuk about the possibility of re-signing the Russian sniper after his contract runs out this season. That reduced his value, making him strictly a rental player, Milbury said.

Milbury, a former Boston Bruins' GM, let the criticism fly for his former colleague, saying Waddell has a history of making bad trades. He pointed to the Marion Hossa deal in 2008, which saw the Thrashers send the star forward, along with Pascal Dupuis to Pittsburgh for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito, and a 2008 first-round pick.

Only one of those players, Armstrong, remains on the Thrashers roster.

"Not very good return," Milbury said. "He should have learned from that deal."

HNIC contributor Pierre LeBrun came to Waddell's defence, saying that eight GMs felt the Thrashers got the best they could given the circumstances, since Kovalchuk was clearly a rental player only.

Waddell revealed that he was willing to make Kovalchuk the highest paid player in the NHL, but Kovalchuk turned down a 12-year, $101-million US offer, and a seven-season, $70-million deal.

However, Waddell made those big money offers recently, not in the off-season, and Kovalchuk had apparently already made up his mind that he wanted to test the free-agent waters — with a goal of heading to a contending team.

Losing Kovalchuk leaves a big hole for Atlanta.

"You cannot let a star player get into his last year before free agency without signing him," HNIC's Elliotte Friedman said. "Unless you feel you can win it all."