Dustin Byfuglien won't be helping the Chicago Blackhawks defend the Stanley Cup next season.
The six-foot-four right wing had his extended Stanley Cup celebration interrupted Wednesday with news he was the centrepiece of a six-player trade with the Atlanta Thrashers, a deal that went through officially early Thursday.
Defenceman Brent Sopel, rugged forward Ben Eager and forward prospect Akim Aliu will join Byfuglien in Atlanta.
"There might be some more and it's not going to be fun," said Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith. "Everybody is going to have to keep moving forward, and a lot of times that's part of the business."
Chicago general manager Stan Bowman's haul included the 24th and 54th overall selections in Friday's NHL entry draft in Los Angeles — acquired by Atlanta in the late-season Ilya Kovalchuk deal with New Jersey — along with veteran centre Marty Reasoner and Ontario Hockey League left-winger Jeremy Morin.
More importantly, the Blackhawks shipped out $5.33-million US in salary — $3 million for Byfuglien and $2.33 million for Sopel — and acquired $1.15 million in salary for Reasoner. Eager, who made $1 million this past season, is eligible for restricted free agency July 1.
New Thrashers GM Rick Dudley said the team needed to get faster and stronger. He is a former Blackhawks executive and familiar with Byfuglien and the six-foot-three, 205-pound Aliu.
"I think what we saw in the playoffs is the Dustin Byfuglien that has been evolving for some time now. He's probably one of the premier power forwards in the league," Dudley said in a conference call early Thursday. "He's capable of 20 to 30 goals, at least, and playing a good two-way game.
Byfuglien, 25, scored 17 goals and 34 points in 82 regular-season games for Chicago in 2009-10. He then turned up his play in the post-season as a disruption in front of the opposing teams' net.
"He's a kid that's incredibly versatile and he's 255 pounds and can skate," said Dudley. "It's very, very hard to find that."
Sopel, 33, had a goal and five assists in the post-season but had only one goal in the regular season. Eager, 26, had three points in the playoffs and 16 in the regular season.
"Ben Eager, I believe, is one of the better forecheckers in the National Hockey League," Dudley said. "He's also pretty good on the pugilistic side of things and he hits with a purpose."
In his second season with Atlanta, Reasoner, 33, had four goals and 13 assists.
The Thrashers also did some dealing with the Sharks on Thursday to free up spots on the roster. Atlanta dealt defenceman Mike Vernace, left-winger Brett Sterling and a seventh round pick in the 2010 Draft (188th overall) to San Jose for future considerations.
Vernace, a Toronto native, put up 13 points in 62 games last season with the AHL's Chicago Wolves and Hamilton Bulldogs. Sterling, 26, led the Wolves in goals and ranked third on the team in points with 56.