Huge If True: How Byfuglien contract impacts defensemen at trade deadline

Huge If True: How Byfuglien contract impacts defensemen at trade deadline

The Rumor

On Monday afternoon, the Winnipeg Jets announced they had re-signed Dustin Byfuglien, a very good defenseman who was long part of a will-they-won't-they with his club. The contract was heavy on dollars (who cares) and relatively light on term (very wisely) and did almost as much for the Jets in the immediate future as it did for everyone else who is on the hunt for blue line help.

It has been quite clear at least since the end of October that there were a lot of teams that wanted blue line help, but no real swaps have been made in this regard. Chicago and Pittsburgh swapped some of their D problems, LA took Luke Schenn off Philly's hands, the Ryan Johansen/Seth Jones trade was more of an own-self necessity in Columbus's mind than addressing a specific need (though Jones clearly does that), and that's about it in terms of actual “name” defenders switching teams all season.

For the last week or two, NHL insiders had been saying that whatever decision Kevin Cheveldayoff eventually made with respect to re-signing one of Byfuglien or Andrew Ladd would chart a course for everyone else. That is, either of those guys would likely be the top target for anyone looking for defense or offense, respectively. Therefore, with Byfuglien signed, that told everyone who wanted to bolster their blue lines to start sniffing up someone else's tree.

The impact of the Byfuglien contract was more or less immediately apparent. Within 18 hours or so, Bob McKenzie reported rumblings of a potential Phaneuf trade. Just 20 minutes later, Darren Dreger linked him to the Senators. And before an hour was out, the Senators themselves announced the trade.

Just like that, the D market was open for business.

And unlike October, we now have a pretty clear idea of both which teams are buying, and who's for sale.

Who's Going Where?

Even before the Byfuglien announcement, it seemed the Bruins were starting to get their ducks in a row with respect to the beach-softening that must necessarily go with trading a guy like Loui Eriksson. They shouldn't trade him but it now appears they're going to in pursuit of defensive help, which they badly need. So who could be targeted?

Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe says they want young-ish experienced defenders with term, so that might mean guys like Toby Enstrom from Winnipeg, Jack Johnson from Columbus, Kevin Bieksa from Anaheim or Dennis Wideman from Calgary (currently suspended 20 games). Included in that mix was Jared Cowen, since traded to Toronto as part of the Phaneuf deal, and he'll be important again in a minute here.

Meanwhile, Comcast Sportsnet New England has a few of those guys in this slideshow, plus Keith Yandle (now unlikely to be traded due to the Ryan McDonagh injury), Kevin Shattenkirk (now unlikely to be traded due to the Alex Pietrangelo injury), Justin Schultz, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and on and on and on. Literally name a young defenseman in the league and he was probably on this list.

Meanwhile, the Wild might just be willing to make a trade to get some offensive help (HELLO DON SWEENEY ARE YOU LISTENING?), but unless you're really enamored of Matthew Dumba, you're not gonna find much there. Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon — whose availability is best termed as “very” and “non-existent,” respectively — are both out with injuries of indeterminate term, and this team probably isn't looking to cash in the chips just yet. In another two weeks? Very maybe.

Bruce Garrioch has the Habs listening to offers on Tom Gilbert. He also doubles down on the idea that Dan Hamhuis is available in Vancouver, and that Justin Schultz is on the block in Edmonton. All of that checks out.

And let's not forget, as Al Muir points out, Travis Hamonic still has that trade demand in with Garth Snow, so he could be moved for the right package. Which, because the Islanders are actually good, probably includes a good roster player or two. And also recall, he specifically wants to go to Western Canada.

In 30 Thoughts, Friedman fuels the “Justin Schultz will be traded” fire, and also says some stuff about Dan Hamhuis. Not too long after that, Schultz was a healthy scratch, with Renaud Lavoie believing it might be related to a pending trade.

Likewise on this week's Insider Trading, Pierre LeBrun said Hamhuis has serious interest league-wide, echoing Friedman's specific naming of Washington and Dallas as potential destinations. He also mentions LA, but notes what many others have not: Hamhuis has a full no-move.

McKenzie also notes the Flames seem to be 50/50 on keeping Kris Russell.

As for Cowen, there seems to be a general consensus that the Leafs might sell him to someone else again, because they don't really want or need him (due to his being not-good and expensive). That's because a unique quirk of his contract allows him to be bought out at the end of the season and then actually give the team doing the buying-out a cap credit of $650,000. That is, the team would be able to exceed the salary cap by that much.

The Leafs don't need that because they're not going to be a cap team next year anyway — especially with Phaneuf's huge money now off the books — so a cash-rich, cap-poor team that's likely to be right up against next year's ceiling when the season starts (such as Chicago) might be willing to give up a quality asset to give themselves that bump for the cost of the buyout. With this in mind, the odds that he re-enters the market is high.

With all that looming over proceedings, LA also waived a very cheap and possibly finished Christian Ehrhoff, so even if he clears waivers you gotta think he's available going forward.

And that, I think, is everyone who was mentioned in the last few days. It's been crazy.

The Implications

We now have a pretty clear picture of both who is buying and selling defensemen, so it looks like a deal could get done in the relatively near future. If the Byfuglien situation was the issue damming up the D market, then that logjam has been cleared and the Phaneuf trade is evidence enough of that.

If you have a defenseman to sell, he'd better be good, because you're apparently in a market that is very, very crowded all of a sudden. In the previous section I count 16 — SIXTEEN — defensemen who might be available for the right price, ranging in quality from “pretty good” to “why bother?”

That, I think, shifts the advantage to the teams looking to buy defensemen, which is not something I might have predicted a few months ago. Because if only half those guys are available, that's probably more than the number of teams looking to buy blue line help anyway.

It's amazing how quickly this became a buyer's market, but here we are. Lots to consider here in the next week or two.

This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?

On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:

There are going to be at least a few defensemen traded, possibly all to a handful of teams looking for any help at all. Boston seems a logical jumping-off point but Los Angeles is constantly being linked to teams in this group as well, as is Brooklyn and a few others.

Obviously not all the above-rumored trades are all going to come to pass, but a handful will for sure, and that's why it's tough to give this any more than:

1.5 poops
1.5 poops

If you like a team that's been on the hunt for a defenseman or three, all this should be some very good news for you. In terms of value and the guys mentioned above, I would be rooting for Travis Hamonic (Western Canada only), Tom Gilbert (on the condition that Montreal does decide to blow it up), one of Sami Vatanen or Cam Fowler (because Anaheim has too many good young defenders apparently), Dan Hamhuis (if he waives the no-move), and even Justin Schultz (who is probably decent but woefully miscast as a top-pairing defender/future Norris winner).

Terms and conditions apply and all that, I guess.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)