This afternoon, the Chicago Blackhawks, fresh off a Stanley Cup victory, made the first of what we consider to be many trades this summer. The Hawks are completely strapped for cash, with ten players up for free agency, including star goaltender Anti Niemi, and only $1.234 million in cap space, before this trade was made.
The Blackhawks sent playoff hero Dustin Byguglien, along with veteran defenseman Brent Sopel, enforcer Ben Eager, and prospect Akim Aliu to the Atlanta Thrashers for first and second round picks (that Atlanta acquired in the Kovalchuk trade) along with Marty Reasoner and Jeremy Morin.
For the Thrashers, this was a tremendous trade by GM Don Waddell, who capitalized on the Blackhawks need to shed salary. As for Chicago, it is unfortunate, but a necessary evil that the franchise had to deal with.
Byfuglien had become a fan favorite for his physical play and nose for the net, as well as when he scored five goals in a five game series against the San Jose Sharks in these playoffs. Sopel, on the other hand, has been a class act wherever he went, and will be marching in Chicago’s annual gay pride parade.
Sopel went out of his way there to promote equality within the city, and no doubt this trade will come as a shock to him.
The Blackhawks were able to free up close to $5 million with this deal, but still need more space to bring back the likes of Antti Niemi, at least three more forwards, and two defensemen.
There have been rumors of Patrick Sharp being on the way out, and before last season, Brent Seabrook’s name was thrown around. As of right now, though, Seabrook will be going nowhere, and Sharp will be the most likely to go.
One of Kris Versteeg or Dave Bolland could also be on the way out, as they each made around $3 million, compared to Sharp making almost $4 million.
I do believe the Blackhawks defense will stay in tact, and I’m sure management is kicking themselves for the $7 million handed out to Brian Campbell annually, as he has not been nearly as good as Keith and Seabrook down the stretch.
With a busy few days already behind us, and the draft approaching on Friday, the Hawks will not go into free agency without making at least one more trade. You can be sure of that.