Thursday, 24 June 2010

One And Done?

Today marked the first day of the official Stanley Cup Champions' dismantling. The Chicago Blackhawks, deep in red ink when it comes to the salary cap numbers, shed five players in an effort to bring their payroll in line with the NHL's mandate. It was known before the Stanley Cup Final that this day would come. The only question that Blackhawks fans had was who would be the first big name to go? And, slightly less important to Hawks fans, where is he going? We got the answer today in two trades. And one of those two trades was clearly a salary purge.

The Chicago Blackhawks reportedly made a deal with the Atlanta Thrashers yesterday, but the deal needed league approval due to the salaries being moved between the two teams. With the NHL's blessing today, Chicago sent forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, and Akim Aliu along with defenceman Brent Sopel to the Atlanta Thrashers for the 24th and 54th picks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and forwards Marty Reasoner, Jeremy Morin, and Joey Crabb. Later in the day, the Blackhawks shipped forward restricted free agent Colin Fraser's rights to the Edmonton Oilers for the 151st pick in this year's draft.

Obviously, the big piece in this trade was Dustin Byfuglien. The Minnesota native became nearly a legend in Chicago with his play during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and his big body and work ethic were cheered at every chance by the Hawks' faithful. Atlanta will be getting a player who knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup while being in the spotlight, and Byfuglien will be expected to be the bruising power forward for the Thrashers that everyone saw in this year's playoffs.

Second City Hockey, a fabulous Blackhawks blog, spoke candidly about how Byfuglien's recent success on the ice may have gotten the Hawks more in return than what he was seemingly worth. Said McClure:

"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."
Wow. The hardest part in accepting McClure's sobering look at the big man is that he's exactly right. Byfuglien was seemingly a fringe player during the majority of the regular season, and has recorded no more than 19 goals and 36 points in any of his three full seasons in the NHL to date. There's no denying that Byfuglien's efforts in this year's playoffs were instrumental to the Blackhawks' successes, but there has to be more shown in the regular season by Byfuglien if he wants to make the Hawks regret moving him. 36 points at his salary leaves them with no regrets at this point in time.

Brent Sopel, whose antics with his sock stripes won him no fans on this blog, was an easy choice on the blueline as his $2.2 million salary was extremely pricey for a fifth defenceman. Yes, the Hawks will lose a player who ate major minutes while killing penalties, but, like Byfuglien, Sopel's stock rose in the playoffs with his performance. Should that be expected through 82 games next season? I'm betting on "no".

Coming to the Hawks in return is Marty Reasoner, a player who will most likely end up filling the fourth-line centerman position next year. He's fairly inexpensive at $1.5 million, and will replace the departing John Madden as he will demand more money on the open market than Chicago can offer. Reasoner is a decent face-off man, but his comparisons to Madden will end there. Don't expect this guy to be a defensive shadow like Madden was, Hawks fans. It just won't happen.

With a couple of larger salaries off the books for next season, there are still a few more players who shouldn't get too comfortable in the Windy City. One of Andrew Ladd or Kris Versteeg could and probably will still be moved, and it also means that the Hawks will not be dipping into the free agent market for any major names this July. Cristobal Huet should start looking for an apartment in Rockford next season as it is almost a given that his salary will be buried in the AHL.

Growth, it seems, will have to come from within just as it did four years ago.

Now this begs the question: can the Blackhawks be as competitive as they were this year while cutting salaries all over the place? As I stated last Friday, are you interested in seeing your team take one big run at the Stanley Cup, or would you rather have them build gradually over the course of a few years so that a potential dynasty can be born?

The salary cap has changed how hockey dynasties are shaped. The Detroit Red Wings, who constantly replaced expensive, departing talent with younger, cheaper talent, demonstrated how a dynasty can be built and maintained. Chicago, on the other hand, have all the makings of a one-and-done thanks to their salary purges.

So which would you, the fan, rather have: a solid team that has the capability to go deep in the playoffs each year, or a team that has all the makings of a Stanley Cup Champion, but is forced to scuttle that team once their playoff run is over?

For me, I choose the first option. You may not win, but you're seeing a lot of playoff hockey every year. With apologies to San Jose Sharks fans, the Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize, but remaining competitive over the course of a decade is good for the team's bottom line. Which, in turn, should be good for the fan.

This one is a tough decision, but which would you choose?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


deathmonkey said...

First off Teebz, Chicago's AHL team is now in Rockford. I believe that Norfolk is now the Lightning's. Second, you compare the Hawks to the Red Wings, and say we have no chance of repeating, that they're one and done. How are they not doing things like the Red Wings? They've kept their main core intact, and will just be looking for the "character" guys to plug the holes and fill certain roles. I think, depending on a few other moves that might happen, that the Hawks still have great potential to win again next year.

Teebz said...

Ok, AHL relations are fixed. I was lookng at my Blackhawks-themed Admirals jersey last night that arrived in the mail. My bad!

Second, I do compare them to the Red Wings because the Wings have done the one thing that the Hawks have not: refused to overspend.

The Hawks have yet to prove that they can refrain from spending, so that's why I asked if they are a one-and-done team.

I think they can remain competitive, but they are going to have to move Versteeg and/or Ladd to do so. If Niemi has a "sophomore slump", Corey Crawford is your only back-up because Huet's contract makes him ineligible to be brought up from the minors.

Detroit has Howard play exceptionally well, and could rely on Osgood to back him up.

Big difference there in goalies.

deathmonkey said...

There are two reasons the Hawks are in "Cap trouble" and have spent. The first is up until a few years ago, Chicago was a ghost town for hockey. No one came, no players wanted to come here, and the team was awful. They had to overspend to attract people here, i.e. Brian Campbell. The second reason of course is the infamous qualifying offer debacle from last year. If that had not happened, Versteeg, Barker, and a few others would not have been signed at such a high price. That would have reduced cap pressure also.

I would rather see Versteeg moved, he, just like Byfuglien, won't be worth any more than he is now. For all the skill and talent he has, he is hockey stupid too much of the time.

As far as the goalies go, I think Crawford would be a more than adequate back up for Niemi. The Hawks didn't succeed because Niemi played like Plante or Dryden, it was because the D helps him out. As long as they can maintain that level, they'll be fine. Also, if Niemi does falter, and Crawford is not up to task, there are so many goalies out there right now that need jobs that I think some would still be available into the season.