LAS VEGAS -- Kudos to Stan Bowman.
Three NHL executives I spoke to Tuesday said they didn't think the Chicago Blackhawks GM could fetch a first-round pick for Dustin Byfuglien, but he did just that Wednesday in a blockbuster deal with the Atlanta Thrashers that spelled major cap relief for the Stanley Cup champions.
OK, so the first-round pick is 24th overall -- New Jersey's pick from the Ilya Kovalchuk trade -- but it's a first-round selection nonetheless.
Under immense pressure to make a move to ease their salary-cap crunch, the Blackhawks moved Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and prospect Akum Aliu to the Thrashers for a first-round pick, a second-round pick (also New Jersey's), prospect Jeremy Morin and veteran forward Marty Reasoner. The trade is still pending league approval.
The Hawks won't be as good a team without Byfuglien, a playoff goal-scoring machine; but it was understood months ago that Chicago would come out of its cap crisis as a thinner squad. Thing is, the Hawks here have been able to recoup some value in future assets, and that's huge.
The cap savings from the deal is just over $5 million since Reasoner ($1.15 million) is the only NHL salary the Hawks take in return. If you assume goalie Cristobal Huet ($5.625 million) will either play in Europe next season or get buried in the minors, then the Hawks have found about $10.5 million in cap savings right there.
On the Atlanta side of things, what's not to like? A first-round pick is a big price to pay, but the Thrashers retained their own pick (eighth overall). Byfuglien, meanwhile, is a top-six power forward with star potential. He has frustrated the Hawks' coaching staff with his work effort over the past few seasons, but showed what he is capable of this spring.
And, by the way, the Kovalchuk trade is the gift that keeps on giving. The Thrashers initially got forward Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya and prospect Patrice Cormier in return back in February and used the picks they also received from New Jersey to add Byfuglien, Eager, Sopel and Aliu. Not bad for an asset in Kovalchuk that was walking away July 1.
Don Waddell has taken a lot of abuse from fans in Atlanta, but keep in mind the former GM (and current team president) made that deal with the Devils and it's looking like a great one. New GM Rick Dudley added the finishing touches Wednesday by scooping up Byfuglien against heavy competition. Of course, Dudley had the inside track given his relationship with Bowman during their days in Chicago together.
OK, everyone ... take a deep breath now. More moves to come over the next few days!