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Islanders Gameday: Here comes Big Buff

Last summer, among potential targets for Those With Cap Space to pick over from Those Without, few were as intriguing as Dustin Byfuglien, the enticing defenseman-turned-power-forward of a confoundingly inconsistent nature. Now, streaks come and streaks go (I promise...I mean I hope), but the scoring binge Byfuglien has been on this season hasn't let up yet.

Atl-top_medium               Nyi-midisle_medium
Atlanta Thrashers @ New York Islanders
7 p.m. | MSG+2, NHL audio - WRHU 88.7
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Gawking at birds: Bird Watchers Anonymous

"Big Buff" was converted back to defense amid much skepticism -- in fact, in the last Isles-Thrashers meeting I noticed him daydreaming on an Islanders goal...that was before he scored the OT winner of course. The experiment seems to be going well. Some credit probably goes to well-regarded "teaching" coach Craig Ramsay.

We'll never know how much of a chance the Islanders had to join that party, as the trade that moved Byfuglien was a massive one:

Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and a prospect to Atlanta for first- and second-round picks, Marty Reasoner (a useful defensive forward the Hawks flipped), Joey Crabb and prospect Jeremy Morin. That's quite an exchange of assets -- respected Thrashers blogger The Falconer was disappointed at the time -- and the move may have been greased by the existing relationship between Atlanta GM and ex-Hawk employee Rick Dudley. The Hawks needed to move bodies; Dudley wanted to bring in big bodies.

That deal probably can't be viewed independent of the move a week later in which the Hawks sent Andrew Ladd (another solid player) to Atlanta for a 2011 2nd-round pick and the ex-Stars prospect they'd acquired for Kari Lehtonen. (The Hawks also moved Kris Versteeg -- who doesn't inspire me much -- to the Leafs for two prospects and Viktor Stalberg.)

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. I coveted Byfuglien, but like many within the league I also recognized the uncertainty around his game. In terms of useful bodies on the move, Reasoner and Ladd actually intrigued me as veterans, too. We know Garth Snow was in the cap-excess after market with the James Wisniewski acquisition later in the summer, after arbitration period. We also know Snow had targets around July 1 on the free agent market that chose elsewhere.

Could Byfuglien have been landed? Would it have required taking on some other baggage -- or parting with prospects whose presence -- and patience -- defines this rebuild? And how much would it have changed the character of this team for better or worse? (Aside: How many of them would've suffered the same injury curses befalling the best players in this lineup?)

Right now it's looking good for Atlanta. For the Isles, stuck with one win in their last 19, hindsight and the unknown is 20/20.

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Note: I'm traveling and won't see this game until many hours later, so consider this our dual preview and game thread. Conjure up a winner.