Dustin Byfuglien’s big season for the Thrashers is being rewarded in an even bigger way today. The impending restricted free agent cashed in today signing a five-year extension with Atlanta worth $26 million. That amount is good for a salary cap hit of $5.2 million per year until the 2015-2016 season.
Byfuglien is in the midst of his best season as a professional and doing so at a position that many doubted he could perform well at on defense. With 17 goals and 26 assists from the blue line, Byfuglien is Atlanta’s leading scorer. Doing all of this while being moved back to his original position on defense is outstanding work.
After being a revelation during the Blackhawks Stanley Cup run last season as a power forward, Byfuglien has become a scoring threat from the blue line in more elaborate ways than he could as a forward. He’s a threat to unleash a big shot from the point or pinch in deep and make things uncomfortable for opposing forwards and defensemen alike. The work head coach Craig Ramsay has done in helping to improve Byfuglien’s game as well as GM Rick Dudley’s faith in him to pull it off speaks volumes in this deal being signed now.
Of course, with this deal life is made more interesting for other defensemen whose contracts are up after this season. One in particular is Chicago’s Brent Seabrook. Chicago is still strapped by the salary cap and Seabrook is going to demand a raise from his $3.5 million cap hit this year. Asking for the sort of money Byfuglien got might be tough to do as Seabrook’s offensive numbers aren’t nearly as gaudy. They’re not bad though as he’s got four goals and 27 assists as well as a -3 plus/minus rating.
There’s also Nashville’s Shea Weber who is set to become an restricted free agent after this season and is coming off a contract that paid him $4.5 million. Being the Predators captain certainly means that the pressure is on Nashville to take care of him long term and they certainly need him to stay.
For now, Atlanta has staked their future on Byfuglien continuing to grow into his role as a leader on defense and as a power play quarterback. Having him teamed up with Tobias Enstrom gives the Thrashers one solid pair along the blue line that can defend a bit and score a ton. The financial commitment may be high, but considering where Atlanta is salary-wise in the league, they can more than afford to make such a big splash.