Friday, June 25, 2010

Big Buff Comes To Atlanta, But That's Not All

The Atlanta Thrashers have tossed their lineup, sending draft picks they got from New Jersey for Ilya Kovalchuk, along with forwards Marty Reasoner, Jeremy Morin, and Joey Crabb, to the cap-strapped Chicago Cuphawks in exchange for recent playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien and three others.

My gosh! What implications does this have for our poor benighted Tampa Bay Lightning? Well, we'll have to deal with "Big Buff" all season, but I'm actually not too worried about that. Sure, he's a gigantic powerhouse in the playoffs, but he hasn't been tremendous in the regular season these last few years. He put up only 17 goals last season. And we have Mike Lundin, who is evolving into a master shut-down machine. He's no Pronger, but if he can contain Alexander Ovechkin, he should be able to work with Buff.

The interesting part is who came along in the deal with "Big Buff." Atlanta also got defenceman Brent Sopel and forwards Ben Eager and Akim Aliu.

Remember Akim Aliu? No? Aliu was at the center of a media thunderstorm in Canadian junior hockey a few years ago. In 2005, as a sixteen-year-old with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, Aliu was attacked on-ice in practice by a teammate, allegedly for refusing to take part in a rookie hazing ritual.

The player who attacked him? Current Lightning forward Steve Downie. Both players were subsequently suspended and later traded.

Aliu has not appeared in the NHL yet, although he has been point-a-game and two PMs-a-game in junior, and has produced well in minor pro so far.

I doubt we'll hear much from either Downie or Aliu about this, even if they should one day face each other. We'll likely hear things like "That was a long time ago," or "There's no need to talk about those events."

But if Aliu makes the Thrashers out of camp this year (possible? maybe), then the two former teammates could face each other up to eight times.

Downie's temper is known; former coach Rick Tocchet worked hard to settle Downie down, while keeping him on edge. It will be interesting to see how new Lightning bench boss Guy Boucher handles Downie when the going gets strange this year. And if we start seeing Aliu line up against Downie game after game, the sky is the limit how strange it could get.

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