As fans flock to Johnny’s West to watch the future of the Blackhawks, it’s worth a few moments to consider how some of these kids ended up as part of the Chicago organization.
On June 23 last year, the team made a blockbuster trade that, for most of the 2010-11 season, was the source of an overwhelming amount of “What if?” questions. The Hawks made the infamous deal sending, among others, Dustin Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers.
Most fans considered that deal a bust, and many still wish Big Buff was in Chicago. But if we look at the deal with 12 months’ hindsight, was the deal really an overwhelming loss for the Hawks?
As a brief reminder of that trade, here’s what went down:
- To Atlanta
Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel & Akim Aliu
- To Chicago
Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin & two picks (New Jersey’s 1st & 2nd in 2011)
Now let’s look at what the trade looked like on the last day of the 2010-11 season:
- To Atlanta
Dustin Byfuglien, Akim Aliu, Ben Maxwell & San Jose’s 2011 5th round pick
- To Chicago
Jeff Taffe, Jeremy Morin, Kevin Hayes, Justin Holl
If we break this deal down based only on the NHL performance of the players during the 2010-11 season, this is an obvious win for the Thrashers (now Jets). Byfuglien, a full-time defenseman, was named an All-Star and had a career year with 53 points. He played well enough that the organization handed him a five-year, $26M contract before leaving Atlanta.
The Hawks saw minimal NHL action from Morin and Taffe, but Taffe played an outstanding season for the organization. He led Rockford in scoring (67 points in 77 games) and, by all accounts, was a good veteran leader for a young IceHogs team.
But let’s look into the future for a moment.
Byfuglien earned his contract and All-Star appearance, and then disappeared in the second half of the season. After piling up 41 points in 52 games before the break, he added just 12 points and was minus-five in the season’s final 29 contests.
Aliu, a bit of a wildcard after he was one of the Hawks’ top prospects for a couple years, split last year between three different organizations and struggled at all three stops. In total, he scored 21 goals and added 17 assists to go with 95 penalty minutes in 75 games.
For the Blackhawks, a big part of this trade is on display this weekend.
Kevin Hayes, the player selected with the first of the two picks acquired in the deal, dealt with an injury during his freshman year at Boston College but has looked very good at prospect camp this weekend.
Something else to consider: after selecting Kevin in the first round, the Hawks traded for his older brother, Jimmy, early on the second day of the 2010 Draft. So far this weekend, Jimmy has been the most dominant forward at the camp.
Holl, who also spent last year as a freshman in college, put on some weight and added lower body strength. He’s still a good skater and handles the puck well, but has looked more physical this weekend than he did last year.
In another stroke of fate, Holl’s ice time last year at the University of Minnesota probably increased when the Golden Gophers unexpectedly lost one of their top blue line players to a professional contract and, ultimately, the NHL: Nick Leddy.
Hayes and Morin could both wind up in the Blackhawks’ top six at some point in the next five years, and Holl adds an intriguing mix of size and puck handling to a deep group of talented defensemen in the Hawks organization. On the other end , Byfuglien has five more years with a cap hit over $5M with the now-Winnipeg Jets.
So, while the 2011-12 season may have left fans wondering what could have been if Byfuglien was still with the Hawks, seeing what the future may hold this weekend because of the trade should give fans a reason for continued hope.