As we get closer to the NHL Draft, the trade buzz surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks continues to grow. This is a summer in which the Blackhawks organization, and its fans, must realize that the National Hockey League is a business as much as it is a sport, and the Blackhawks have salary cap issues. Players are going to have to leave, and tough choices will have to be made. When considering which players should stay and which should go, it is absolutely necessary to evaluate the overall value of a player and their salary.
We talked about reasons to trade forward Dustin Byfuglien earlier this week, but received a surprising amount of push-back from supporters of Big Buff. Some even went as far as to say the Hawks should move Patrick Sharp and keep Byfuglien.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Reality is that the Blackhawks are going to have to move two players out of Sharp, Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg. The Hawks will need to shave roughly $10-12M off their payroll to make it work for 2010-11, and two of these three players will be casualties (unless Dave Bolland or Brent Seabrook is moves; they both have a cap number between $3-4M as well).
Sharp has two more years with a cap number of $3.9M. Byfuglien has one more year with a cap number of $3.0M.
So to shed some more appropriate light on the situation, let’s look at the tale of the tape between Sharpie and Big Buff, two of the more popular players on the Hawks’s roster.
First, we’ll look at the postseason statistics of both players.
|Patrick Sharp||Dustin Byfuglien|
|Avg Time On Ice/gm||17:51||16:15|
|TOI – PK||25;13||0:25|
|ATOI – PK||1:08||0:01|
|TOI – PP||73:26||58:51|
|ATOI – PP||3:20||2:40|
|Longest streak w/out a pt||1||8|
|# of 3+ gms w/out a pt||0||1|
|# gms w/ a pt||15||10|
Because so many fans fell in love with Byfuglien during the Vancouver and San Jose series, and then at the end of the Philadelphia series, it’s easy to forget that Byfuglien didn’t score his first point of the playoffs until the ninth game of the postseason. Meanwhile, Sharp did not go consecutive games the entire postseason without scoring at least one point.
Byfuglien had the worst plus-minus on the team in the postseason, but led the entire NHL in postseason hits. Sharp, meanwhile, ranked second behind Brian Campbell (?) in plus-minus on the Blackhawks, tied Byfuglien for the team lead in goals, and finished third on the team with 22 points.
What’s more important than the impressive postseason numbers of these two players, though, is the body of work from the regular season. The Blackhawks showed in the Stanley Cup Finals that home ice is truly an advantage in Chicago, and where the Hawks play their playoff games is determined by the 82-game marathon played between the beginning of October and the middle of April.
Let’s look at the 2009-10 regular season stats for these two players.
|Patrick Sharp||Dustin Byfuglien|
|Avg Time On Ice/gm||18:07||16:25|
|TOI – PK||91:03||6:06|
|ATOI – PK||1:06||0:04|
|TOI – PP||229:27||223:04|
|ATOI – PP||2:47||2:43|
|Longest streak w/out a pt||4||7|
|# of 3+ gms w/out a pt||3||7|
|# gms w/ a pt||55||29|
As you can see, it wasn’t even close between the two. An especially bold number to consider is that Sharp’s 66 points are more than Byfuglien has scored in the last two regular seasons combined(64)! Another realization from these numbers is that Byfuglien only scored in 29 games, while Sharp failed to score in only 27.
The number from this assessment that really pops to me is the ice time breakdown. When Joel Quenneville was forced to move Byfuglien back to the blue line, many fans instantly argued that Byfuglien’s value had increased “because he can play defense, too.” To the contrary, reality is that Quenneville was handcuffed by the salary cap and couldn’t financially bring another defenseman in; his only choice was to move a forward back.
The true indication of a player’s defensive value to a team is his time spent killing penalties; indeed, this is why Brent Sopel has a trade market this summer when he could barely get on the roster for camp last fall. When you consider that Byfuglien played only 6:06 short-handed in 82 games, it becomes clear that his value is not keeping pucks out of the net.
And again, Byfuglien had the worst plus-minus on the roster while Sharp’s stunning +24 tied Marian Hossa for the team lead.
Looking at the overall numbers, both in the playoffs and the regular season, it’s painfully clear why the Blackhawks are shopping Byfuglien and not Sharp. Not only does Sharp wear an “A” on his jersey, but his solid work in faceoffs and overall game mean too much to the team for him to be considered movable.
What is most important to every Blackhawks fan is to remember that assessments like this are not personal attacks on players. I am not a Byfuglien hater; what he did in the 2010 playoffs will live on forever as one of the most impressive achievements in the long history of the franchise. But when choosing between his overall body of work and that from Sharp, in light of their cap numbers, the choice is clear: the Hawks should keep Sharp and not think twice.