Everyone knows the Blackhawks will face some tough decisions with their roster in the coming days/weeks, and while the departure of free agents is easily justified (the Hawks simply cannot afford players like John Madden next year), whenever a fan favorite is traded it’s hard to stomach his departure.
After an incredible postseason in which he led the entire NHL with five game-winning goals, Dustin Byfuglien is riding high in the eyes of Hawks fans… and general managers all over the league. Because of this, now is the time for the Hawks to trade Dustin Byfuglien.
For the knee-jerk reactions out there that say “You can’t move him after these playoffs!” I simply say slow you’re roll. If you look back at the overall body of work, there is really no question that Byfuglien is not only the best “sell-high” candidate on the Blackhawks roster, but arguably the most over rated player in the NHL right now.
Look back at Byfuglien’s career. He was brought up as a defenseman, but was moved to a wing spot by Denis Savard to utilize his size. He truly emerged on the scene in Chicago in 2007-08, playing in 67 games and scoring a then-career best 19 goals and adding 17 assists in just over 17 minutes of ice time per night. It appeared that Byfuglien might be on the road to developing into a solid power forward.
The problem, though, is that the 19 goals he scored three seasons ago is still his career best.
In 2008-09, Byfuglien stepped back from 36 points to 31 (15 G, 16 A) in ten more games (77). And while he moved back up to 34 points (17 G, 17 A) in 2009-10, he again played in more games (82) without seeing a significant jump in production.
Last spring, Byfuglien showed the spark that made him a darkhorse Conn Smythe candidate this year when he started to post-up in front of Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks had no answer for his size. During the regular season this year, though, Byfuglien did not consistently show the flashes of brilliance that he was able to bottle in that short series against the Canucks.
Between Jan. 30 and March 14, Byfuglien had separate pointless streaks of seven and five games before being forced to the blue line when Brian Campbell was injured. Indeed, Byfuglien was a ghost for most of the first half of the season, recording only five points (all goals) in a 22-game stretch between Oct. 21 and Dec. 11 of last year.
Is this a player you would rather keep at $3M than Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg or Andrew Ladd?
Now consider that Byfuglien had the worst plus-minus (-7) on the team last year, and continued to post deceptive numbers with a team-worst -4 in the postseason. Let’s frame that number from the regular season into context. Of all the Blackhawks that averaged at least 16 minutes per night (there were 11 not including Kim Johnsson), the second-worst plus-minus on the roster belonged to Dave Bolland. In only 39 games, and dealing with a back injury and recovery, Bolland was +5 on the season – a full 12 points better than Byfuglien.
To those that will point to the perception that Byfuglien is a good, or even decent, defensive forward, I will again call foul. For a player that was able to switch to the blue line for the final month of the season relatively effectively, it’s hard to justify Byfuglien playing 6:06 short-handed all season. That’s an average of only four seconds per game short-handed.
Now consider Byfuglien’s price tag of $3.000M for next year.
Last year, for $1.025M, Troy Brouwer had more goals (22), assists (18), points (40) and was +9 in nearly identical average ice time (16:22) to Byfuglien (16:25) in the regular season. Furthermore, when you consider Brouwer had 189 hits to Byfuglien’s 215, but was whistled for only 66 penalty minutes to Byfuglien’s 94, the value proposition of Byfuglien’s salary to a team that’s tight against the salary cap doesn’t seem to be appropriate.
But I’m willing to play the devil’s advocate. What if the 2010 playoffs truly were the Coming Out Party for Big Buff. What if the kid that dominated the crease (except for the first four games of the Finals) is really what Byfuglien is about to become?
Byfuglien has only one year left on his contract. The market for power forwards is such in the NHL right now that, given the ongoing financial restraints the Hawks could feel for the next two to three years, Byfuglien would be out of the Blackhawks’ price range if he truly does become an elite power forward at 26 years old.
If the Blackhawks are going to move salary off their books, it’s time for Blackhawks fans to begin grieving the loss of Byfuglien. If someone is willing to send the Hawks a top prospect or high draft pick for him based on the promise we all watched in the playoffs this year, Stan Bowman would be a fool not to take it and run.