COACHING CHANGES TRANSACTIONS POWER POLL DEPTH CHARTS CURRENT ODDS
By Dan Di Sciullo
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For a few weeks during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, some folks were calling Dustin Byfuglien the best power forward in the NHL.
It's unlikely Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman agreed entirely with that sentiment, since he opted to trade Byfuglien to Atlanta in a blockbuster deal early Thursday morning.
Byfuglien, along with defenseman Brent Sopel and forwards Ben Eager and Akim Aliu, were dealt to the Thrashers for Atlanta's first round pick (24th overall) in this weekend's NHL Entry Draft, the 54th pick, and forwards Marty Reasoner, Jeremy Morin, and Joey Crabb.
This trade has just about everything to do with Chicago's salary cap situation. Byfuglien is scheduled to make $3 million this season in the final year of his contract and the Blackhawks obviously did not feel they could afford to re-sign the bulky winger next year. Also, with the draft picks they gave up, we can also infer that Atlanta has every intention of keeping Byfuglien around long-term.
The Blackhawks already have devoted loads of money to players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell and others, so it makes sense they decided to trade Byfuglien now because they must believe his value will never be higher than it as at present.
But, the fact that the deal makes fiscal sense for the Blackhawks doesn't necessarily mean that Chicago won't wind up regretting this trade. After all, we are just weeks removed from a solid performance by Byfuglien in the Stanley Cup Finals, which ended with the Hawks celebrating their first title in 49 years.
Byfuglien tallied six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in six games against Philadelphia in the Cup Finals and, as the series wore on, he was able to turn the tables on the Flyers and especially defenseman Chris Pronger.
A 6-foot-4, 257-pound Minnesota native, Byfuglien is a unique talent in the NHL. He is the heaviest player in the league, but also has a great deal of offensive talent and tremendously soft hands for a big man. His offensive skill was obviously a key factor in Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's decision to skate Byfuglien on the top line with Toews and Kane for most of the playoffs.
The Thrashers, meanwhile, opted to give up quite a bit to land this package from Chicago and may have been more than a little swayed by Byfuglien's ability to draw fans to Philips Arena. The Thrashers were 28th in the NHL in average attendance last year and needed to add some recognizable faces to try and offset the loss of former Atlanta superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, who was dealt before last season's trade deadline.
The addition of Byfuglien and Eager also should make Atlanta a much more physical team and the acquisition of Sopel will add some solid depth to the blue line.
Atlanta is just hoping Byfuglien can continue producing the way he did in the playoffs, where he recorded 11 goals and 16 points in 22 games. However, he has never scored 20 goals or recorded 40 points in a season and Byfuglien is coming off a year in which he tallied just 17 goals and 17 assists in 82 games. The 25-year-old certainly has shown flashes of dominance throughout his career with Chicago, but he'll need to be a more consistent point-producer to justify this trade for Atlanta.
In the end, this could not have been a trade that the Blackhawks were dying to pull off, but simply a move that needed to be made. Of course, Byfuglien became a very popular player in Chicago and fans are generally not receptive to salary dumps, but Bowman understands the Blackhawks need to improve their cap health. Trading a guy with one year left on his contract that you won't be able to re-sign is a good way to start that process. It won't hurt that the Blackhawks also gained a few draft picks and an intriguing prospect like Morin to boot.
This is just one of many difficult decisions Bowman will have to make in order to maintain the defending champions' status as viable Cup contenders. Still, the moves are unlikely to change Chicago's probable position as the top pick to win the West, and possibly a repeat Cup winner.
Byfuglien is a nice weapon to have, but ultimately he was deemed not as essential to the Blackhawks' future success as Toews, Kane and company. Hard to argue with that line of thinking.
HENRIK HAS A HART
A few months back when the finalist for the NHL Awards were announced, I voiced my support for Vancouver forward Henrik Sedin as my pick for the Hart Trophy. Guess I can tell the truth now, that I didn't believe Sedin would actually win the league's MVP award given that his competition was Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. I still believed he deserved it, though, and so did the Pro Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) members who voted on the Hart Memorial Trophy.
Sedin's Hart win was the biggest surprise of NHL Awards night, and the voting reflected what a close race it was. Sedin garnered 894 voting points compared to 834 for Ovechkin, making it the closest vote since Jose Theodore defeated Jarome Iginla for the Hart in 2002.
Sedin led the NHL in points during the 2009-10 campaign, but that's not what impressed me the most about his season. Henrik, who of course plays on the same line for the Canucks with his identical twin brother Daniel, has always been known as the playmaker, while Daniel has generally taken care of the goal scoring.
However, when Daniel missed 18 games with a broken foot in October and November, Henrik showed there is more to his game than nifty passing. Henrik notched 10 goals and eight assists during his brother's absence, becoming the goal-scorer Vancouver needed with Daniel out of the lineup.
It was that ability to alter his game in such a dramatic way that set Henrik apart from the pack this year in my estimation. Sure, he's not as deadly an offensive player as Ovechkin or Crosby, but Henrik showed an uncanny ability to adjust when his team needed production from him the most. Obviously, the players thought differently, as Ovechkin won the Ted Lindsay Award, which is the league's other MVP Award and chosen by the NHLPA.