(WSCR) – The new look Blackhawks will come face to face with four of their former teammates tonight. Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel and Ben Eager were all traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in the offseason.
The Blackhawks didn’t have much time to celebrate winning the Stanley Cup before the salary cap dictated an offseason of change, and they’re still struggling to adjust to playing with a number of new faces.
Perhaps seeing a few old ones will get them going.
Byfuglien and Ladd are among four members of the Blackhawks’ first championship club in 49 years now in Atlanta, setting up an intriguing reunion when Chicago visits Philips Arena looking to avoid a sixth loss in eight games Saturday night.
Byfuglien and Ladd both scored 17 goals in 2009-10, but perhaps no player was more vital – or surprising – to the Cup run than Byfuglien.
After serving as a defenseman early in his NHL career, Byfuglien proved to be a force up front in last season’s playoffs. He scored a team high-tying 11 goals – all from Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals on – and had five points in Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Exactly two weeks after both he and Ladd scored in the Cup clincher, Byfuglien was dealt – along with defenseman Sopel and forward Ben Eager – to Atlanta in a cap-clearing move that involved seven players and two draft picks.
On July 1, the Blackhawks sent restricted free agent Ladd to the Thrashers.
“It really saddens me,” Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said at the time. “Those are my good buddies leaving our team.”
Byfuglien has moved back to the blue line in Atlanta, but that hasn’t kept him from scoring. The 6-foot-4, 257 pounder has five goals and 12 points, tying him for the team high with Ladd (four goals, eight assists) ahead of a matchup all four former Blackhawks are eagerly anticipating.
“It’s gonna be a little bit different, but it’s in the past and we’ve got to move on,” Byfuglien said. “Now I get to run them into the boards, so it’s exciting and you might as well have fun with it.
“We can be friends afterwards, but we can’t be friends during the game.”
The Blackhawks weren’t done making roster changes after dealing Byfuglien, and aside from a four-game winning streak from Oct. 15-20, they’ve been unable to string together victories while adjusting to their new roster.
Chicago has dropped five of seven after falling 5-3 at home to struggling New Jersey on Wednesday. The Blackhawks (7-7-1) have been tied or ahead in the third period of six of their seven defeats.
“This is very comparable to the (other) games we lost,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve got to manufacture points. When you do that, you can manufacture wins.”
Chicago has still averaged 3.0 goals in four games since Marian Hossa (upper-body injury) went down, but with the former Thrashers star and fellow forward Dave Bolland still out, it recalled Jeremy Morin – acquired in the Byfuglien trade – on Friday.
Morin thrived in the preseason on a line with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, recording a goal and three assists in six games, but he was sent to AHL Rockford in favor of keeping another defenseman. Morin had three goals and an assist with the IceHogs.
The Thrashers (6-5-2) will be eager to bounce back after giving up 42 shots Thursday in a 3-0 home loss to Columbus in front of a franchise-low 8,461 fans.
There might be a few more seats filled at Philips Arena for this matchup.
“There’s a little incentive playing a team that traded you away,” Ladd said. “So I’m sure we’ll be using that to get ready for Saturday.”
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