So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish
We knew it was going to happen, and the components were not a shock, but still, two weeks after a Stanley Cup victory, losing three key contributors from the roster can be jarring. From all reports, Stan Bowman has completed a deal to send Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and Akim Aliu to Atlanta for Marty Reasoner, prospect Jeremy Morin, and the 24th and 54th picks in Friday's draft.
Everyone knew that the Hawks needed to jettison some salary coming into 10-11, and Buff, Sharp, Versteeg, and Ladd were the prime candidates among the already crowded corps of forwards. Buff made himself the most expendable by underperforming during the past two regular seasons, and that he was (occasionally) a force during the playoffs this year allowed Bowman to sell high. Additionally, the Hawks have Kyle Beach ready to make a grab at a roster spot, and he's younger and cheaper, something the Hawks need to become. In trading Sopel, the Hawks do lose a very valuable penalty killer, but the fact of the matter is that his $2.2 cap hit is just too much for a #5 defenseman even on a team without cap woes. Eager is a restricted free agent, and Bryan Bickell seems primed to step into that role at a discounted rate after performing admirably when he had the opportunity this year. That Aliu was thrown in is not only an endorsement of Beach as they both do effectively the same thing, but also damning of Aliu, as he had regressed in his development and spent much of the year in the ECHL. He may pan out in the long run, but he's someone else's headcase for right now.
The lone roster player coming back is Marty Reasoner, a career serviceable 4th line centerman with a very friendly cap hit of $1.15 million, and he's likely to replace John Madden on that line. Morin had 40 goals in the OHL last season, so he's got a scorer's touch, but he's still likely a couple years away, which is obviously fine. Getting the picks was a real coup for Stan though, as that's what he was rumored to be asking for for Buff - a first rounder and a prospect, and that's what he got, and he was able to shed even more salaries with the other bodies involved as well. Keep in mind too, that those two picks are those that the Thrash received for Ilya Kovalchuk back in March, so they had house money in the draft to play with. That Atlanta GM Rick Dudley worked here for 5 years with Bowman made this an ideal match on all fronts, and it's easy to see why a deal got done.
My initial take on this is that this is a fantastic deal by Bowman. While no one can coach Byfuglien's size, the fact of the matter is that there are far more willing wingers on this team to go to the net in most situations, and all of them are more mobile than Buff. While yes, he has been a playoff "killer", keep in mind he did that killing against very inferior defensive corps in Vancouver and San Jose. The instant someone with as equal skill wants it more than Buff, he disappears, as evidenced by Games 1-4 of the finals, and pretty much every regular season game. I'll be thankful for his contributions, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it. As far as what ramifications this move has, it appears that the Hawks will now be able to qualify Andrew Ladd, one of the aforementioned willing wingers, who's only due a slight raise from his $1.6 hit. This also all but seals John Madden's exit, which is fine, as we all knew he was likely a one-year and done guy with the Hawks last July. It also makes Patrick Sharp even less likely to be moved, and it appears they're going to commit to him as the full-time #2 center. I'd still prefer a bona-fide second line center for he and Hossa, but that might not be doable given the fiduciary bind the Hawks are in, unless something really creative happens. Kris Versteeg can breathe a little easier as well, though if I were him I wouldn't go buying any lakefront property just yet. There's still more money to be shed, and losing guys like Burish or Fraser won't bring enough of a relief. Don't think for a second that this is the last move of the off-season, but as of right now, the Hawks got a very good return on some moveable assets, and didn't hurt their chances at a Cup defense, which is all that we can ask of the man named after the Chalice. Stan Bowman gets high marks from me on this one.