Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Big Buff Blues

No! It can’t be. No way did the Blackhawks just trade Big Buff.

That was my reaction to a voicemail I received Wednesday from my brother, who was more than happy to share the news that the Hawks had traded Stanley Cup hero Dustin Byfuglien, defenseman Brent Sopel, enforcer Ben Eager and a prospect to Atlanta in order to clear salary cap space.

Less than two weeks ago I was on East Wacker in downtown Chicago during the Hawks victory parade and rally. Big Buff was on the bus that ended up parking right on the other side of the street where I stood with Kristin and our friends.

There he was, bigger than life, a homemade world championship title belt draped over a shoulder, his Stanley Cup champion hat riding off-center on his head. He carried a bullhorn in one hand and a can of beer in the other.

This was Big Buff at his grandest. And now he’s a Thrasher. The difference in stature is stunning.

It took some time, but eventually at some point last night I came to accept the trade, and saw it for what it is: a good move for the Hawks. It’s a good move for the Thrashers, too, but that doesn’t really matter to me. I hope Byfuglien does well and if he doesn’t, at least there’s a chance he’ll be sent down to the AHL and I’ll get to see him play for the Chicago Wolves!

But I digress. The trade was good for the Hawks for the obvious reason of freeing up some salary-cap space. It’s also good because they got some decent draft picks in return, and two serviceable roster-ready players in Marty Reasoner and former Colorado College standout Joey Crabb.

It also brought prospect Jeremy Morin, a sniper who The Hockey News writer Ryan Kennedy said has a lethal release and could be a 50-goal scorer for Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League next season. If he develops well, he could be a nice addition to the Hawks in years to come. But some doubt exists as to whether or not he’ll materialize into a successful pro.

Kennedy also brought up a point I’ve been thinking about a lot: what type of player are the Thrashers getting in Byfuglien? His career high in points during the regular season is 36. And while he scored 11 goals in the Hawks’ Cup run – including three game-winners in a sweep of San Jose – he only had 17 goals in the regular season.

There were long stretches of the season where Big Buff somehow seemed to vanish on the ice. He hardly ever released his booming slap shot and seemed not to care much about mucking it up in front of the net until he was facing his nemesis, Roberto Luongo.

I was hoping the playoffs were going to serve as his turning point. He’d become a legitimate Chicago hero and the thought was he appeared ready to live up to his potential.

We’ll never know that now. If he has a great season with the Thrashers, there is still no guarantee he would have done that with the Hawks. And if he resumes his old, underachieving play, that’s still no reason to believe he’d have done that in Chicago.

In any event, I’ve come to accept that Big Buff is gone. It’s the way of the world in professional sports these days.

I’m just glad I chose to buy an Esposito jersey instead of the Byfuglien one I was eyeing.