A New Way of Doing Business
It's a steal of a deal, depending on your perspective.
For the Chicago Blackhawks coming off a Stanley Cup championship, it has to be pleasing that not only were the team's salary cap problems essentially solved by a single deal with the Atlanta Thrashers, a first round pick was acquired in the process, plus a second rounder for good measure.
That, some would argue, is how champions remain champions. By converting veteran assets into future assets. That, and the Hawks were able to hang on to talented centre Patrick Sharp, a player many figured would have to go to make the Hawks salary cap situation work.
Then there's the Atlanta end of things. For the cost of the 24th overall pick in the draft, no better than a 50/50 shot to make the NHL eventually, at best, they acquired three meaningful pieces from the Stanley Cup champions, including the team's No. 1 right winger, Dustin Byfuglien.
Anybody who watched the Vancouver-Chicago playoff series this spring would regard Byfuglien as an impact forward, a rare combination of overwhelming size (perhaps has much as 270 pounds) and remarkable skill who was a one-man wrecking crew against Roberto Luongo and the Canucks. Plus he's just 25 years old and makes a manageable $3 million per year.
Add in Ben Eager, an enforcer and energy player who scored the winning goal in a Stanley Cup final game this year, and Brent Sopel, No. 4 on Chicago's blueline depth chart in these recent playoffs, and you have a set of enormously helpful additions to a team that desperately needs to become relevant in its market by becoming a regular playoff participant.
Given that the first and second picks given to Chicago were acquired from New Jersey in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal, that basically means that the Thrashers were able to convert their ex-captain into Byfuglien, Sopel, Eager, defenceman Johnny Oduya, young winger Niclas Bergfors and former Canadian national junior team captain Patrice Cormier.
So the Hawks got what they wanted, but this is also true. Playing the high wire act with the cap got them a Stanley Cup, but it also will make it much more difficult, maybe impossible, to repeat.
It's not just Byfuglien, Sopel and Eager, don't forget. During the season, the Hawks had to sacrifice 6-foot-3, 24-year-old defenceman Cam Barker to Minnesota in order to get their salary cap house in order for next season. Barker not only could have helped the Hawks in these playoffs - turns out they had enough without him - but would have been a fixture for years on the Chicago back end.
Sopel and Eager are replaceable parts, Byfuglien and Barker not so much, or at least not so easily.
In many ways, the Chicago-Atlanta swap is precisely what many in the industry have been anticipating for years, and that's the ability of one team to essentially use cap space to trade for tangible assets.
The Thrashers basically sold $4 million of cap space to Chicago for a first line winger and spare parts.
It's the business of the new NHL, still emerging five years after the lockout.