The Atlanta Thrashers announced on Tuesday that they have locked up one of their key pieces moving forward, signing defenseman/forward Dustin Byfuglien to a new 5-year contract extension, said to be worth $26 million. Byfuglien, 25, was scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1st, but has now locked himself in through the 2016 season.
His new cap hit is now $5.2 million per season, with his salary structure being end-loaded, for an increase in pay for each season in the deal. His current cap hit is $3 million, so he'll be getting a nice raise over the next five years.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Byfuglien leads the Thrashers in scoring with 17 goals and 26 assists in 57 games, ranking him 66th in league scoring overall, 5th among all defensemen this season. He has seen some pretty good scoring returns with the pairing of Tobias Enstrom and even saw a dip in his production when his partner went down with an injury not too long ago. Between Byfuglien and Enstrom, they form quite the formidable pairing and should make the Thrashers into a Southeast Division contender each year that they are together.
Seeing as though that this deal does not kick in until next season, it would only be right to start talking turkey for next season. As of right now, I have the Thrashers with 12 regulars signed on, including Byfuglien, with no excess contract situations to deal with (buyouts or re-entry waiver claims) at an annual cap hit of $33.2 million. This total includes their two franchise defenders, both goalies and a good number of their key young forwards on the roster. Key names not on the signed roster, as of yet, include Andrew Ladd, Anthony Stewart and Zach Bogosian.
This is quite the sweetheart of a deal for Byfuglien, who established some value as a big lump in front of opposing goaltenders, when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last Summer and this season, has wowed many with his ability to dominate from the point, upon his return to the blueline, since joining the Thrashers. In only a few seasons, he has really gained a lot of notoriety and therefore, earned a big number on his future paycheques. This will definitely put a higher-power microscope over his play going forward, now that he'll be compared to players in the same salary bracket.