Blackhawks trade away Byfuglien
The Chicago Blackhawks made a blockbuster trade with the Thrashers on Wednesday, the Stanley Cup champions moving Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and a prospect to Atlanta for a first-round pick, a second-round pick, forwards Marty Reasoner and Joey Crabb and prospect Jeremy Morin.
The first- and second-round picks that Chicago gets in the deal were acquired by Atlanta in the trade that sent Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey last February.
The prospect Atlanta is getting from Chicago is Akim Aliu.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted that the deal was "simply a salary cap move."
"It's exactly what we set out to accomplish," he added. "To get some draft choices. ... There were a lot of other considerations and we're satisfied where we ended up."
Rick Dudley, who in April was promoted to general manager in Atlanta, said the deal made the Thrashers "significantly better, immediately."
"I think what we saw in the playoffs is the Dustin Byfuglien we've seen evolving for some time now," Dudley said in a conference call early Thursday morning. "As a forward he's probably one of the premier power forwards in the league."
The trade was delayed a while on Wednesday night because it would have moved the Thrashers above the accepted limit of 50 player contracts, a league source told ESPN.com. But Atlanta then made a "minor transaction" with San Jose, sending a seventh-round selection (188th overall) in the 2010 draft, defenseman Michael Vernace and left wing Brett Sterling to the Sharks for future considerations.
"It is what it is," Byfuglien said on "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000. "It's part of the job. You're not going to stick in one spot the whole time so I've got to go."
After winning their first Stanley Cup since 1961, the Blackhawks were in dire need of shedding salary as new contract extensions for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane (five years, $31.5 million each) and Duncan Keith (13 years, $72 million) next season put them in a major salary-cap crunch.
That comes on top of Marian Hossa's deal (12 years, $62.8 million) signed before last season. In addition, defenseman Brian Campbell just completed the second year of an eight-year, $56.8 million contract.
Chicago saves a little more than $5 million in cap space with the trade.
Byfuglien has one year left on his contract paying him $3 million, which is also his cap hit. Sopel has one year left on his deal at $2 million although his cap hit is $2.3 million. Eager is a restricted free agent who earned $965,000 this past season, so retaining his rights would have cost at least that much.
The only salary the Blackhawks get back is Reasoner, who has one more year left on his contract at $1.2 million and his cap hit is $1.15 million.
The Blackhawks aren't backed into a corner after the trade, Bowman said.
"We'll explore other ways to make changes ... [we] don't necessarily have to do anything else," he said.
Keith, who won the Norris Trophy Wednesday night as the NHL's top defenseman, said the Blackhawks had to start making changes even though the Cup victory was still fresh in their thoughts.
"There might be some more and it's not going to be fun," Keith said. "Everybody is going to have to keep moving forward, and a lot of times that's part of the business."
Byfuglien was a major force in Chicago's run to the Cup, switching from defense to forward to fill needs with the team. The 25-year-old scored three game-winning goals during a sweep of San Jose in the Western Conference finals that put Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1992. He also had a hat trick in a victory over the Canucks in the conference semifinals.
"He's probably as big a player as there is in the National Hockey League and he can skate," Dudley said. "That skill, that combination is so attractive. We think we got something special there."
Against the Flyers in the finals, the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Byfuglien struggled at times against defenseman Chris Pronger but scored three goals over the final two games. He had 11 goals overall during the playoffs after finishing with 17 during the regular season. He has three straight seasons with more than 30 points.
Eager posted seven goals and nine assists in 60 games. Sopel was only a plus-3 for the season but was a big part of the Hawks' penalty kill, especially late in the regular season and the playoffs.
Reasoner had four goals and 13 assists, his 11th season in the league.
Adding the 24th and 54th picks gives the Blackhawks 10 in the draft.
Sopel said the trade doesn't diminish his celebration of winning the Cup, which he still plans to carry in Saturday's Chicago Pride Parade.
"The three of us who were part of this trade were a big part of the reason we won the Stanley Cup," he said Thursday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "Nobody can deny that.
"I'm no longer a Hawk, but I'll be a Hawk for life. Chicago is where I'm going to retire. But obviously it's a business. I'm going to move on to Atlanta, and do my best there and bring what I normally bring every single night."
In another move early Thursday morning, Chicago sent center Colin Fraser to Edmonton for a sixth-round draft pick. Fraser had 13 goals and 36 points the past two seasons.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com. Information from ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers and The Associated Press was used in this report.