When the Chicago Blackhawks started moving their spare parts to save money this summer, the biggest body unloaded was that of playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien. The streets of Chicago hadn't been cleaned from the parade yet, and Byfuglien was on his way to Atlanta with Ben Eager and Brent Sopel (and, eventually in a second deal, Andrew Ladd) in exchange for prospects and draft picks.
The trick for fantasy owners (and Blackhawks fans with separation anxiety) is trying to determine whether or not Byfuglien has real fantasy value in 2010-11.
Last spring, Byfuglien had a nice spring and the Hawks hoped he would have a breakout year in 2009-10. However, he was an overwhelming disappointment for fantasy owners. He had only 34 points (17 G, 17 A), and scored in only 29 games in the regular season. While he did lead the Blackhawks in hits last year, it's hard to justify using a forward spot on a player that has a stat line as one-dimensional as Byfuglien was last year.
However, with confidence from a strong championship performance and a new home with higher expectations (and available ice time), Byfuglien could flourish with the Thrashers.
He could be skating with a Kane again this year... Evander, not Patrick. Beyond Evander Kane, though, it's hard to see where the scoring will come from in Atlanta this season. Nik Antropov led the team with 67 points (24 G, 43 A), but most of his effective play was while Ilya Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov were on the roster. Colby Armstrong is also gone, leaving the Thrashers with a lot of holes for former Blackhawks to fill.
Considering Atlanta's limited scoring options, both Byfuglien and Ladd could be prominent players for the Thrashers this season. One of them will likely be skating with Rich Peverly, and the other with Kane on the top two lines. While neither eclipsed 40 points last year, both Ladd and Byfuglien could have breakout seasons in 2010-11, the final year of both of their contracts.
Fantasy Advise: Consider both Byfuglien and Ladd as depth options at forward.