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By mid-afternoon yesterday, I had a savvy blog constructed for my inaugural post here on HockeyBuzz. It was all about the Hawks' cap plight, and included the pros and cons of the players whose names have been tossed around in all of the trade commotion. It was a well thought-out, snappy piece of writing. I even incorporated Bluto Blutarsky quotes. Solid gold.

Then Stan Bowman had to go and ruin it for me.

Your 2010 Stanley Cup Champions have shipped off one of the (literally) biggest assets of their exhilarating playoff run. Bon Voyage, Big Buff. Next stop, A-town.

Immediate fan reactions from Chicago sports radio seemed to be mixed, although screening calls to create a sense of balance is standard practice in such media. Message boards and blogs seem to be a bit more accepting of the deal, despite Byfuglien's folk-hero status in the 2010 playoffs, which was gratuitously amplified by the fine folks at NBC and Versus during the finals.

I'd like to take a moment or three to - piece by piece - break down this deal in terms of what it means to Chicago. In my humble opinion, of course.

Who Was Lost - Dustin Byfuglien

Losing Buff will be an unpopular move to some, especially to those in Chicago who just started watching hockey - oh, I don't know - around May of this year. Byfuglien's 11 playoff goals tied Patrick Sharp for the team lead, 5 of which were game winners - again first on the team. His innate ability to irritate opposing goalies and defenders brought him much love in the Second City, and heaps of hate everywhere else. There is no understating his value to the Hawks in the 2010 playoffs.

It is for this very reason that he had to be moved. His value will never be higher than it is right now. The performance, paired with the media hype has made Buff the next big thing, while the Stan and Scotty Bowman (not necessarily in that order) view him as merely one of the interchangeable cogs in the family success machine.

The Hawks lose a tremendous talent in Buff. There are few, if any power forwards who possess his combination of size and hands, not to mention the versatility to play both forward and defense. His potential to be a stand-alone star is questionable, however. Consistency has always been his problem. He'll look great for one game, and disappear for the next six. He was talked about as a possible U.S. Olympian until he made himself invisible throughout the first half and became relegated to a checking role. That track record speaks louder (at least in the Hawks' front office) than the magical playoff run. Thus, he has become an expendable piece under the current cap.

Who Was Lost - Brent Sopel

Sopel was also a fan favorite in the Windy City this year, namely for his lumbering gait, affably goofy appearance, and willingness to throw his 6'1, 205 lb frame in front of any shot that sizzled through the defensive zone. As numerous Hawks have stated in interviews throughout the season, he's a huge character guy - a great presence to have in the locker room. His willingness to change his role from a powerplay specialist to a primary penalty killer is a nothing if not a tangible example of this.

That being said, his role on the team (i.e. a fifth defenseman and PK guy) was far too minimal to justify a $2.3 million cap hit, even with the intangible benefits. There will be wily vets and hungry newcomers who can fill this role at a fraction of the cost. His was a contract that simply had to go, one way or the other.

Who Was Lost - Ben Eager

Short of the occasional Adam Burish sighting, Eags was the closest thing the Hawks had to a tough guy this season. With the occasional flash of offensive prowess, Eager's job was to be an energy guy and a heavy hitter. It is a job he did well, minus of a barrage of stupid penalties at inopportune moments.

I am truly neutral on this move. The Hawks don't really gain any immediate cap space by trading him, as he is a restricted free agent. As was with Sopel, the price tag is a tad high for the role Eager played, averaging less than 8:30 of ice time in the regular season. The role can be filled on the cheap. Thus, it will be.

Who Was Lost - Akim Aliu

Losing Aliu was the one thing that irked me about this deal. All reports are that despite some discipline questions, Aliu possess all the tools to be a solid power forward in the NHL. In my own head, I had him pegged as the eventual replacement for Byfuglien, whether it is this upcoming season or the next.

My main hunch here is that Aliu was the cost of moving Sopel. Taking on Byfuglien was likely an easy decision for the Thrashers, but taking on an aging, limited-role defenseman with an expensive contract (relatively speaking), especially with a roster already boasting six defensemen, likely required some bartering. My guess is Aliu was the piece that made taking on Sopel's salary acceptable.

Provided Aliu makes the big league roster next year, it should be fun watching him play against Steve Downie six times next season.

Who Was Gained - Marty Reasoner

The book on Reasoner reads like this - a defensive-minded center whose primary specialties are face-offs and penalty killing. The eleven-year vet is also a solid character guy, winning the 2009 Players' Player award for the Thrashers for being a fantastic team player.

Reasoner fits perfectly into the mold of last year's success, replacing the soon-to-be (if not already) departed John Madden. Statistically speaking, the two had similar seasons in 2009-10. Madden had 10 goals and 13 assists, finishing the season at a -2. He averaged 15:24 of ice time per game, with a face-off percentage of 53.0%. Reasoner finished the year with 4 goals and 13 assists, averaging 12:30 minutes per game with a faceoff percentage of 50.9%

Comparatively speaking, Madden is the better player. However, is he twice the money better? Not likely. Madden's 2009 contract was for $2.75 million, a sum he would likely request to stay a Blackhawk, as internet chatter has already stated he rejected a home-town discount offer from the Hawks' brass. Reasoner's cap hit is just above 1.1 million for the upcoming season. I would expect him to be the fourth-line center and see some time on the PK, especially in those in-zone faceoff situations when Quenneville likes to keep two face-off specialists on the ice. This move also made Colin Fraser expendable, as he was sent to Edmonton this morning.

Who Was Gained - Jeremy Morin

I know many Hawks fans don't know much about this kid, but he is a reason to be excited. He finished this season in the OHL with 83 points, ranking 12th in the league. He also finished with 47 goals, one shy of the highly touted Tyler Seguin, and seven more than Taylor Hall. Not too shabby.

Sure, these aren't the gaudy numbers that Patrick Kane posted in his 2006-07 OHL campaign, but they are nothing to sneeze at. Although scouting reports doubt his skating ability, it's obvious that the kid has a nose for the net. At 19, he won't be NHL ready for a couple of years, but he's a fine pick-up, and a good guy to have in the system. He immediately becomes a top-10 if not top-5 prospect.

Who Was Gained – Joey Crabb

Crabb has spent most of his professional career with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. He did see a 29-game stint with the big boys in 2008-9, amassing a mere 9 points.

A quick youtube search of Crabb yields mostly fight clips, none of which I saw were overly impressive, mostly ending with Crabb taking the worst of it. At 6’1” 190lbs, Crabb isn’t exactly an imposing figure, but could be an energy guy who works his way in and out of the lineup, perhaps in the mold of Adam Burish.

Who Was Gained - Draft Picks – 24th and 54th overall

At this point, it is difficult to speculate who the Hawks would gain specifically. There is still a full day before the draft, and deals could still be made, and one can never predict the NHL draft after the top three or four picks anyway. One mock draft I read has the Hawks taking forward Tyler Pitlick out of Minnesota State with the newly acquired 24th overall pick. The book on Pitlick is a guy who is hard-working and likes to go to the corners. Seeing as the Hawks are going to lose some grit with Byfuglien, Eager, and likely Andrew Ladd departing, a guy like Pitlick could help to fill that void eventually, albeit certainly not this season.

The bottom line here is that for a GM like Stan Bowman, additional pieces in the draft is a good thing. Keeping the cupboard as stocked as possible will be imperative moving forward, as the Hawks will likely have to make more sacrifices in the coming seasons to keep the core (namely Seabrook next year) in the fold.

The Overall Impact

Tthe Hawks will gain roughly $4.2 million in cap space, depending on what they do with Crabb, who is listed as an unrestricted free agent on CapGeek, and will likely take somewhere between $600,000 and $700,00 to sign.

The major on-ice impact is the loss of size. Byfuglien is a behemoth, and Eager has a bulky frame as well. Factor in the probable departures of Andrew Ladd and Adam Burish, and the Hawks look like a small team next year, losing a great deal of physicality. Guys like Brouwer and Kopecky are still under contract, but the Hawks definitely must find some bangers to fill in the bottom two lines.

Some point to the loss of Byfuglien as a huge blow to the top line. I find this to be overstated. Quenneville has proven himself a master at juggling lines and finding combinations that work. Let us not forget that Troy Brouwer played most of the regular season with the top line, amassing a career-high 20 goals. As long as Kane and Toews are in town, top-line production will not be in question.

Where This Leaves The Hawks

There is still work to be done, don’t kid yourself. Moving Byfuglien’s and Sopel’s contracts was a good first step. Hopefully a good second step will be losing Huet’s $5.6 million cap hit one way or another.

I’m still hoping for a trade, however, I have a sneaking suspicion that any trade involving Huet will also include Patrick Sharp. I can’t see another GM taking on the netminder’s bloated contract without something valuable being attached. Despite my hopes, I don’t think Versteeg and/or Ladd would be deemed valuable enough. The more likely overall scenario is the oft discussed waiver/AHL idea.

In the coming days, I still expect both Ladd and Versteeg to be moved. Ladd is a restricted free agent, and someone somewhere has a top-six position open for Versteeg. I do not think Sharp is off the table completely, but I think the Bowman’s will ask for a king’s ransom in return for the vet, even if they package him with Huet. He is one of the team’s most versatile and complete players. He can play center or wing, and can perform at a top level on both the PP and the PK. Of all the players being discussed in trade rumors, Sharp is the most integral to another Hawks championship run next season.

It’s going to be an interesting couple of days, let’s enjoy the ride.
Filed Under:   Byfuglien   Blackhawks   Thrashers   Sopel   Sharp   Versteeg  
July 26, 2022 5:04 AM ET | Delete
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