It was time to make a move.
With their playoff chances fading, the Thrashers acquired Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart from Boston on Friday. By adding a forward and defenseman, two pieces general manager Rick Dudley has been targeting, he hopes to snap a slump that has seen just six wins in the past 24 games.
In exchange, the Thrashers sent forward Rich Peverley and defenseman Boris Valabik, a former first-round pick, to the Bruins.
“I’ll start with the fact that we’ve won three of the last 15 games,” Dudley said on the reason for the trade now. “We needed to make a change. … “We want to make the playoffs. Right now, we have not played very well. The deal today was clearly made to give us a jump start and try to get on a roll. We’ve proven this year that we can get on a significant roll but we like to get back it.”
The centerpiece of the deal for the Thrashers is Wheeler, a former first-round pick (No. 5 overall) by Phoenix in 2004. The 24-year-old had 11 goals and 27 points in 58 games for the Bruins this season. In three NHL seasons, the 6-foot-5, 205-pounder has 110 points (50 goals, 60 assists). The Robbinsdale, Minnesota native has missed only one game in his NHL career.
“Big body with good puck skills,” said Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay, who coached both Wheeler and Stuart as an assistant coach with Boston. “He’s able to kill penalties and has become pretty good at that aspect of the game. He should help on the power play as well because of his good offensive skills.”
Wheeler, who will wear No. 26, will become a restricted free agent. He made $2.2 million this season.
Dudley said he wanted a big centerman, although Wheeler can play all three forward positions, because he didn’t think a group of small centers such as Peverley, Bryan Little and Alexander Burmistrov would work long term. The move comes 10 days before the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline. Dudley said more moves are possible.
Stuart, 26, has been limited by injury and played in only 31 games for Boston this season with five points (one goal, four assists) and a plus-8 rating. The 6-2, 213-pound Stuart, who will wear No. 5, was a first-round pick (No. 21 overall) by the Bruins in 2003. In six NHL seasons, the Rochester, Minnesota native has 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists). Stuart, who will make $1.675 million this season, will become an unrestricted free agent.
“He’s a great competitor and brings grit to the defensive corp.,” Ramsay said. “He will also jump up and join rushes. He really wants to be involved offensively, not just be a defenseman.”
Both players are expected to join the Thrashers in time for Saturday’s game in Edmonton. Dudley said he expects both to be in the lineup against the Oilers.
“I think I’ve come a long ways, certainly with the complete game and both ends of the ice,” Wheeler told the Boston Globe after the trade. “I think I’ve transformed my game in a lot of areas. Offensively, I have a lot more to offer than I’ve maybe done so far this year. I just want to keep doing those same things I learned here about being a complete player.”
Peverley, 28, appeared in all 59 games for the Thrashers this season with 14 goals and 34 points. He had played in 180 consecutive games, with 49 goals, since being claimed off waivers from Nashville in January 2009.
“It’s tough to see a friend go,” Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “It’s a good opportunity for him. At the same time, we got two people back that can help us. Usually change happens when you are struggling.”
Valabik, the No. 10 overall pick by the Thrashers in 2004, has spent all season at AHL Chicago. The 25 year old has had an injury plagued career. The 6-7, 245-pounder had seven assists in 80 career games with the Thrashers. Valabik has long been waiting for a second chance.
“Boston is a dream come true as far as an organization and a style of play,” Valabik said. “I’m thankful for another chance and I finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. … I was thinking if I get traded, I’ll be the luckiest guy in the world. Now it’s up to me and not anybody else.”
With Stuart giving the Thrashers seven healthy defenseman, Paul Postma was re-assigned to AHL Chicago. Postma was re-called on Tuesday but was scratched for Thursday’s game against Phoenix.