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Fantasy GM: Should the Islanders target Dustin Byfuglien?

The following is idle summer speculation from an observer, and not sourced by insiders or tea leaves. If you're an anonymous passer-by, please do the world a favor and don't pretend it's "a rumored to be pursuing" thing.

The Chicago Blackhawks, you may have heard, are up good and tight against the salary cap. The New York Islanders, you may have heard, are rebuilding with a focus on youth. Many are saying the Hawks need to move a salary (or two). With all that young talent in Chicago, they just may have a match in the Islanders.

If you're Garth Snow and you want to try to leverage this situation, who do you target, and who do you offer up? I'm interested in any suggestions (including compensation). But I'm thinking the slightly overpaid ($3 million per through 2010-11), hulking enigma known as Dustin Byfuglien would work. Before we dig into this, though, let's establish a few givens:

  • The nature of the Hawks' situation means they have to take cheaper salary and/or picks in return. (So Andy Sutton isn't going back the other way)
  • However, the Hawks don't have to deal someone -- not yet -- so they can afford to be a little picky. (So "give them Jeff Tambellini!" doesn't cut it.)
  • That said, Snow should only enter this game if he can leverage the advantage -- i.e., part of what he would be giving the Hawks is cap relief, so it should be an asymmetric transaction in terms of the player assets exchanged

The Candidates

Some news scuttlebutt suggests the Hawks would deal Cam Barker or Kris Versteeg -- though that would be rather cruel after both of those players re-signed with the team even though they could have chased the open market, thanks to the Hawks office snafu that made both of them likely unrestricted free agents. Of course, if the Hawks wanted to deal Versteeg or still-promising defensemen Barker, who am I to turn them down?

Another candidate, who many Hawks fans would love to dump, is Byfuglien. While I would obviously love to pry Versteeg away, my hunch is Byfuglien, 24, is a more likely target due to his uneven development. Plus, he would provide the kind of size on the wing the Islanders sorely lack.

2008-09 - Kris Versteeg 78 22 31 53 15 55 6 4 3 0 139 15.8

Dustin Byfuglien GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG SOG PCT
2005-06 25 3 2 5 -6 24 0 0 0 45 6.7
2006-07 9 1 2 3 -2 10 0 0 0 18 5.6
2007-08 67 19 17 36 -7 59 7 0 4 163 11.7
2008-09 77 15 16 31 7 81 3 0 4 202 7.4

If you don't see many Western Conference or Hawks games, you might not know what a force Byfuglien can be -- when he's motivated -- as a big body who can bang and finish. He's the profile hockey insiders salivate over, the type who draws an uniterrupted string of "MONSTER!"s from Pierre McGuire. Of course, if you don't check in on or hear many Hawks fans, you might not realize just how frustrated they can get with him. Like a lot of big men, his development comes in stops and starts, though in his case he also had a late start on his hockey development.

Not to suggest he's on this level, but think of the Todd Bertuzzi experience on Long Island: You saw his size, saw his hands, and then slammed your head into a wall with frustration that he could never seem to put it all together. While many mourn Bertuzzi's departure, it was almost as if he was never going to "get it" until he got a change of scenery and a taskmaster coach like Mike Keenan to wake him up. Hell, Byfuglien might even appreciate talking to a guy like Clark Gillies instead of pouting.

Scott Gordon is no dictatorial Keenan, but he's no pussycat either. Once Byfuglien overcame the jolt of relocation -- and assuming his slower pace could adjust to Gordon's system -- I bet he could fit in and blossom as an important part of the Islanders, providing a mix of size and skill needed to compete in the Atlantic Division.

Whom To Give Up?

So that's my case for Byfuglien. But who do you offer? If the Hawks wanted a draft pick, I say go for it -- although not a 1st-rounder, given where the Islanders stand. But it's fair to say Byfuglien has demonstrated enough NHL ability and potential to justify a 2nd-round pick plus. The thing that elevates his value is his tantalizing size; the thing that lowers it is his enigmatic development.

If you're sending a roster player back, the one who cries out to me is Blake Comeau. Comeau's a restricted free agent, but his raise will still keep him under $1 million, representing a $2 million relief for the Hawks. An even-up right wing swap? Could work. Like Byfuglien, Comeau has potential. He also had the worst 5-on-5 GF/GA performance of any regular Islanders forward last year.

2008 - Blake Comeau 53 7 18 25 -17 32 2 0 0 0 78 9.0

Comeau would likely excel with similar handsy forwards on the Hawks. What Chicago would lose on size (and potential) in the deal, they'd gain in cap relief.

If Chicago wants size back, do you offer Jesse Joensuu instead? Again, the Hawks lose in present-day value in that exchange, but they gain cap relief (in fact, Joensuu can be kept in the minors and off the books) and have a cheap potential power forward for the future.

I love this proposition, because it's the kind of thing that would draw reactions all over the map (from "No way! Byfuglien is gonna be great!" to "He'll never get it! Dump him now."). Frankly, I bet Hawks management would value Byfuglien more than Hawks fans do, because where fans see daily frustration, management (should) see a potential long-term piece unlike anything else in their lineup. On the other hand, the Hawks might see a chance to sell high after Byfuglien's playoff -- and demand a higher price than I'm willing to offer.

If you want to get really cute, you can take the unused (and hardly useable) ex-Islander Brent Sopel's contract off their hands, too -- but in that event I'm not giving much of value in return.

So the question: If you could poach the Hawks' roster, who do you want and who would you (realisticall) give up to get him?