LAS VEGAS -- As promised, Stan Bowman has begun to reshape the Blackhawks with a blockbuster trade just two days before the NHL draft.
As Duncan Keith was preparing to accept the award for best defenseman in the league, news broke that the Hawks were on the verge of trading Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, and Ben Eager to Atlanta for picks and a prospect plus veteran center Marty Reasoner.
This deal immediately gives the Hawks the cap relief they so desperately seek while also restocking the farm. They’ll save about $5 million on the deal and add two more picks to Friday’s draft. The Hawks will now pick 24th and 30th in the first round. It’s possible, the Hawks will not have to rid themselves of another major contributor, depending on the deals that Antti Niemi and Niklas Hjarmalsson sign.
A hero just two weeks ago, Byfuglien is now an exile. Did he max out during the playoffs or was he turning a corner in his career? That’s the question that will be answered starting next season, and the Hawks might be kicking themselves if it’s the latter. Great power forwards don’t grow on trees.
It may not matter, though. Maybe the Hawks' brass thinks Byfuglien is only getting better but their hands were tied. Because of the cap situation, people had to go.
In some ways, the risk falls more on Rick Dudley, the GM of the Thrashers, than the Hawks. Taking Eager and Sopel helped the Hawks without question. If Byfuglien is just average then what did Dudley get? Akim Aliu?
And again, even if Byfuglien comes to play, the Hawks can always tell themselves and their fans, “we had to do something and this trade was what was presented,” or something along those lines.
But let’s not forget about the contributions that Sopel and Eager provided. Eager had some huge moments in the postseason and every shot that hit Sopel wasn’t hitting Keith, Seabrook, or Niemi for that matter.
But those attributes can be replaced. The incredible postseason run that Byfuglien had, cannot. His presence in the middle during the past two postseason will go down in Hawks lore. His hat trick in Game 3 in Vancouver started to move the Hawks from a middling playoff team to a dominant force, and Byfuglien didn’t let up. He only got better. Collecting hits and goals like they were seashells on the beach, his 2010 postseason was his crowning achievement in a Hawk uniform. His name on the Conn Smythe trophy was not unthinkable, and you wonder if he won it, could they have traded him then?
With Cristobal Huet and most likely John Madden’s salaries coming off the books, along with the three players the Hawks just moved, Bowman has moved himself into a much safer position as the draft and then free-agency comes upon us.
Shedding the money was the right thing to do and change can be good and in this case necessary, but it doesn’t always feel like the right thing at the time.