Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Will Blackhawks miss Byfuglien?

Chicago Blackhawks Dustin Byfuglien has been traded to the Atlanta Thrashers Wednesday night.

As part of an 8 player deal, Byfuglien heads to Atlanta along with Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, and prospect Akim Aliu (you can read up on him here).  Aliu is touted by some as a very underrated prospect, while Eager and Sopel are obviously useful journeymen at this stage.  Heading back to Chicago are the Thrashers 1st round pick, (24th overall), a 2nd round pick, prospect Jeremy Morin , and journeyman forward Marty Reasoner.

As reports, Byfuglien, 25, had 17 goals and 17 assists in 82 games with Chicago last season. He became a hero to Chicago fans in the playoffs with clutch performances and five game-winning goals during the Blackhawks' post-season run.

What does this deal mean for both teams involved?

Well, firstly, the Thrashers get a bundle of roster players that could be considered useful.  Eager serves a purpose and can protect youngsters like Evander Kane.  In Sopel, the Thrashers get a veteran influence and can help bring along Zack Bogosian and other youngsters in their system.  In Akim Aliu, Atlanta gets a bit of a project, but definitely one with a good upside.  Byfuglien though is the interesting component.  Since the picks in this deal were acquired in the Kovalchuk trade, the Trashers still have Nicklas Bergfors to show for that deal and now can add Byfuglien.

Despite Big Buff's strong playoff run for the Hawks, how good is he?  Well, it's tough to say.  Chicago media themselves have argued that the likes of Sharp, Versteeg and Brouwer are more valuable and have more upside, leaving Buff as the odd man out.  Perhaps the Hawks looked at his regular season stats - with his career year in the 30 point range coming three seasons ago.  He has not really built upon that, and his defensive play has been called into question, as he had the worst plus minus on the Hawks by quite a margin and took undisciplined penalties.  For all the negatives though, the Hawks may miss him.  Chicago likely parted with him due to cap issues and will miss a key component and versatile player that helped them win the Stanley Cup. 

Despite his detractors, his worth to the Hawks in the playoffs is undeniable.  He was extremely effective and may have been the difference maker against the Canucks in their second round series.  As good as Byfuglien was in the playoffs, he was useful because he created room for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.  Who is Byfuglien going to create room for in Atlanta?

There are a lot of instances in the past where effective players who fill a role with an elite talent are thought to be able to produce on their own but are simply unable to return to form.

Look at Glen Murray on the Boston Bruins years ago.  Joe Thornton set him up nightly on one of the NHL's best lines.  When Thornton was traded to the Sharks, Murray virtually vanished.

Anson Carter is another great example.  The Sedin twins made him a 30 goal scorer.  He left for money to Columbus - never to be heard from again. 

Time will tell if the Thrashers benefit from this trade.  For the Blackhawks however, they won't miss Byfuglien during the season, they are too deep and too good.  On the other hand though, he may have been an important piece for them in the playoffs.  Perhaps now the Canucks can beat them.

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