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Numbers Game: Byfuglien Goes To Atlanta

Scott Cullen
6/24/2010 7:22:02 AM
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The Chicago Blackhawks started their payroll purge by dealing playoff star Dustin Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers and, considering they were over a barrel, got a good package in return.

Numbers Game looks at a slightly complicated Blackhawks-Thrashers deal.

The Thrashers Get: RW Dustin Byfuglien, LW Ben Eager, D Brent Sopel and LW Akium Aliu.

While his 17-goal, 34-point regular season was relatively unremarkable, 25-year-old Dustin Byfuglien definitely left his imprint on the playoffs, scoring 11 goals and 16 points in 16 games against Vancouver, San Jose and Philadelphia in the final three rounds.

If that playoff performance is an indicator of future performance, then the Thrashers can hope that Byfuglien will be an offensive mainstay, potentially capable of scoring 30 goals, despite tallying a total of 51 over the last three seasons.

Signed for $3-million next season, after which he'll become a restricted free agent, Byfuglien should be used in a prominent role with Atlanta, on a scoring line and, naturally, in front of the net on the power play, but only if his play earns it.  

Byfuglien's minus-7 rating was worst on the Blackhawks last season, so improved reliability is necessary if he's going to maintain a regular top-six forward role.

Ben Eager, 26, is a big winger who fought eight times last season, but he has developed his game to the point that he can be pretty useful when he gets in on the forecheck consistently.

A restricted free agent, Eager may be due a small raise on the $965,000 he earned last season, but he can be effective in a fourth-line role for the Thrashers.

Veteran defenceman Brent Sopel struggled at times throughout his tenure with the Blackhawks, but the 33-year-old turned in a tremendous defensive performance in the postseason.

Signed for one more season, at $2.333-million, Sopel is a reliable third pair option; a tad expensive for what he offers, but the Thrashers can afford him next season and, if Atlanta is out of the playoff mix again next season, Sopel could be trade bait for a team seeking a veteran defenceman at the deadline.

21-year-old Akim Aliu is still raw, but an enticing package of size, speed and skill so the Thrashers can wait on his development. After scoring 11 goals and 17 points in 48 AHL games last season, Aliu has to become more consistent before the 2007 second-rounder can be considered for a spot in Atlanta.

The Blackhawks Get: C Marty Reasoner, LW Jeremy Morin, RW Joey Crabb, a first-round pick and a second-round pick.

Points aren't the measuring stick for 33-year-old Marty Reasoner's game, which is a good thing, since his 17 points last season represented his lowest total since the lockout.

With his speed, Reasoner is an effective checker and has only missed five games in the last three seasons.  Assuming that John Madden is going to leave Chicago as a free agent, Reasoner could step into a fourth-line role and, at $1.15-million, is a relatively reasonably-priced veteran addition.

Jeremy Morin was a second-round pick of the Thrashers in 2009 and he lit up the Ontario Hockey League last season, scoring 47 goals and 83 points in 59 games with Kitchener; the kind of offensive promise that should project him into a top-six forward role whenever he's deemed ready for the NHL.

Fortunately, the Blackhawks don't need to rush Morin and can give him more time to work on his game -- his skating, in particular -- before pressing the 19-year-old into an NHL job.

Joey Crabb, 27, had 53 points in 79 AHL games last season, but is an unrestricted free agent, so his inclusion in the deal is only a shuffling of contracts needed to make the trade official (more on that later).

The 24th pick in the draft has a good chance to make the NHL and there may be some quality left at that point in the draft, including defenceman Jarred Tinordi, centre Tyler Pitlick and Russian playmaker Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Adding a second-round pick to the deal gives the Blackhawks an approximately one-in-four chance of landing an NHLer.  Considering that the Thrashers are doing the Blackhawks a massive salary-cap favour in this deal, it's surprising that both draft picks were required to make the deal work.

Really, if the Thrashers offered Reasoner, Crabb and the 54th overall pick for Eager, Sopel and Aliu, would the Blackhawks, desperate for salary cap relief, turn that down?  That seems like rather fair value.

That would then leave a top prospect (Morin) and a first-round pick in exchange for Byfuglien, a price that seems awfully steep given that Chicago needs to create salary cap room by Monday so that they can make qualifying offers to their restricted free agents -- a group that includes Andrew Ladd, Antti Niemi and Niklas Hjalmarsson -- or risk losing them for nothing as unrestricted free agents.

In any case, the Blackhawks ended up with good value in the deal, particularly when evaluated alongside their financial circumstances; not losing any core players and, with a quality prospect and picks coming back, there is an opportunity to replenish the club's prospect pool.

Atlanta improves immediately, but paid a steep price to do so, but if Byfuglien becomes a consistent scoring forward, then the deal should be worthwhile for the Thrashers.

The Sharks Get: RW Brett Sterling, D Michael Vernace and a seventh-round pick.

In order to facilitate this trade -- remember, the Blackhawks were the team with a time and financial crunch, not the Thrashers -- Atlanta had to move some contracts.

NHL teams are allowed to have 50 players signed and that includes all players (including those in the pros, minors and junior) and, while Chicago is up against the salary cap, Atlanta was up against that 50-player limit.

Sterling is a 26-year-old minor-league scorer who is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Vernace, 24, had 13 points and a plus-3 rating in 62 AHL games with Chicago and Hamilton last season.  He's a restricted free agent, so the Sharks don't even have to keep him, but they might hang onto him for organizational depth.

The seventh-round pick is thanks for taking on these two contracts so that the trade with Chicago could go through.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.




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