I know this is an odd time to discuss the future, considering the Hawks are now one win away from heading to the Stanley Cup Finals. But regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, the Hawks still have major salary cap issues this offseason that will need to be addressed.
In order for the Hawks to ice a legal team for 2010-2011, many unpopular roster decisions will have to be made. Outside of Toews, Kane, Keith, Hossa, and probably Campbell, almost anyone on the roster is fair game to potentially be moved for money reasons.
Some players that may leave this summer include Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, Brent Sopel, Troy Brouwer.....and Dustin Byfuglien.
Is Byfuglien worth keeping around? If you asked me that question, my answer would depend on if it were January or May. Byfuglien is a completely different hockey player once the playoffs begin, as we've seen recently.
During a regular season that included many unimpressive and sometimes effortless performances, moving Byfuglien and his 3 million dollar contract to another team sounded like a great plan heading into next year. Moving him wouldn't be difficult, it would save money, and the Hawks would get something solid in return. Surely, many NHL teams would love to have the services of a young, 265 pound skilled forward that can also play defense when needed.
But with each big playoff goal that Buff scores, it becomes more difficult to consider packaging him in a trade. For the second straight season, Buff managed to completely take over a 7-game series against Vancouver to help get the Hawks into the Conference Finals.
Now against San Jose, playing on a line with Toews and Kane, Buff is getting on the scoresheet and drawing attention away from his two talented linemates on the ice. This leads to a trickle down effect as Toews and Kane have much more room to work their magic with the puck. Of course, we can't forget about Buff's game-winning overtime goal in Game 3 to put the Hawks up 3-0 in the series and one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals.
Simply put, Byfuglien is earning his 3 million dollars -- and then some -- in the playoffs alone.
The question becomes: do you keep Buff on board for his playoff heroics, even if it takes a roster spot away from a more consistent player?
All things considered, I think there's a good chance that one of Buff and Troy Brouwer might be gone by next season. If this is the case, the odd man out will have his spot taken by a power forward prospect from the farm system, such as former 1st round pick Kyle Beach.
So if it comes down to it, which of the two do you keep? Let's compare for hypothetical purposes:
Brouwer easily had the more productive regular season of the two, as he tallied more points and had a better plus/minus. Most importantly, Brouwer brought his best effort on a nightly basis and was more willing to provide traffic in front of the net consistently to disrupt goaltenders. Troy is also cheaper, as he is set to earn 1.25 million next year compared to Byfuglien's 3 million.
Byfuglien's biggest asset over Brouwer is what he brings in the playoffs. While Brouwer has played some of the worst hockey of his career so far this postseason, Buff has been outstanding. To be fair, Brouwer is dealing with off the ice family issues that are undoubtedly impacting him mentally. Although I'm still not sure a top-notch Troy Brouwer would be able to play the way Byfuglien is right now.
Byfuglien vs. Brouwer won't be the only decision that the Hawks' front office will be subconsciously thinking about this offseason. In a league that enforces the salary cap, a franchise must identify "the core" and then build around it with various pieces each season. The Hawks' core right now consists of Kane, Toews, Keith and Hossa, because all of them are essential to the team's success and are signed long term. Bolland's contract also makes him part of the core, and his recent playoff performances are likely to keep him there. Campbell probably isn't going anywhere either. The rest of this team is essentially fighting for not just a Stanley Cup, but to ensure a roster spot for next season.
With Antti Niemi and Niklas Hjalmarsson up for new deals this summer, and Jonathan Toews potentially earning a playoff bonus or two that may count against next year's cap, the financial situation gets tighter every day.
This is the sad part about having such a great team; it is nearly impossible to keep it together. The core does not have room for everybody. Is Byfuglien more important to this team's long term success than Niklas Hjalmarsson? What about Patrick Sharp? Thinking of it that way makes me realize that I'm still not quite sold on Byfuglien being thrown into the core.
He is making a great case for himself, though. And if he keeps this up, he will certainly be part of the conversation.
-JT --Follow me on Twitter @JTalarico328 for Hawks thoughts, news and updates