Blackhawks set to deal Byfuglien to Thrashers

The Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and the Thrashers were awaiting NHL approval Wednesday on a multi-player blockbuster trade that would send Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel and Ben Eager from Chicago to Atlanta, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

ATLANTA — The Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and the Thrashers were awaiting NHL approval Wednesday on a multi-player blockbuster trade that would send Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel and Ben Eager from Chicago to Atlanta, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the trade had not received final approval from the league.

Chicago also would send a prospect to Atlanta and acquire first- and second-round picks in this week’s NHL draft as well as forward Marty Reasoner and prospect Jeremy Morin.

The trade clears salary cap space for the Blackhawks and provides more experience for the Thrashers.

As the teams awaited league approval, players involved in the deal also were left on hold.

Sopel addressed the trade on his Twitter account. He tweeted “Thank You Everyone for the Amazing Well Wishes, but this is all just Rumor and has not been Confirmed yet. But regardless I LOVE U CHICAGO!”

Byfuglien can become a restricted free agent after the 2010-11 season.

With major salary-cap issues, changes were expected for the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane and Johnathan Toews signed lucrative contract extensions with the Blackhawks in December — five-year deals worth US$31.5 million each.

Marian Hossa (12 years, $62.8 million deal) and Duncan Keith (13 years, $72 million deal), who signed the same day as Kane and Toews have large long-term contracts. Defenceman Brian Campbell just completed the second year of a $56.8 million, eight-year contract. Goalie Cristobal Huet, who became a pricey backup, has two years left on a $22.45 million, four-year deal. Antti Niemi is a restricted free agent who is due a raise.

Someone had to go, and on Wednesday, Byfuglien, Sopel and Eager appeared to be the ones.

Byfuglien, 25, had 11 goals overall during the playoffs after finishing with 17 during the regular season. He has three straight seasons with more than 30 points.

Sopel, 33, had a goal and five assists in the playoffs but had only one goal in each of the last two regular seasons. Eager, 26, had a goal and two assists in the playoffs after having 16 points in the regular season.

Reasoner, 33, had four goals and 13 assists in his second season in Atlanta.