A little earlier today, colleague Scott Taylor suggested that the obvious thing the Jets could do to remedy their scoring woes was move Dustin Byfuglien back to forward. Speaking as a fantasy hockey owner with Byfuglien in the line-up, I’m all for that. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a big mistake for the Jets to do it.
For starters, offense hasn’t even been Winnipeg’s primary problem in the early going. Sure, they may rank 21st in the NHL in goals for, but they’re even worse in terms of goals against: 25th overall in the NHL, allowing 3.14 goals per game. In ten of their fourteen games, they’ve allowed three or more goals.
Then there’s the other issue: where their offense has struggled. In 5-on-5 situations, the Jets have scored 26 goals – tied for 6th overall in the NHL. In 5-on-4 situations, they’re tied with virtually the entire bottom half of the league with seven goals, and their power play has converted just 14.6% of its chances. If the primary problem is on the power play, there’s no reason Byfuglien can’t be moved around without switching positions.
Some would point to Dustin Byfuglien’s minus-5 rating and occasionally less than stellar defensive play and suggest he’s part of the Jets’ problem on the back end. That’s an oversimplification, though.
Back towards the end of October, we took a look at Byfuglien’s plus/minus rating – the bottom line was that he was playing the best possible opponents, his line was managing to outshoot the opposition, and the only reason his plus/minus was so bad is that his opposition was three times as likely to score on a goal as his line-mates were. In the six games since then, he’s scored three points and gone plus-1.
Byfuglien is averaging nearly 20:00 per game at even-strength – the 11th-highest total in the NHL. He’s still playing the best opposition every night. He and his line-mates are still outshooting that opposition. Tobias Enstrom is on the shelf – based on ice-time, if Byfuglien gets moved up front that leaves Zach Bogosian and Johnny Oduya as the two defensemen at the top of the depth chart (they presently rank third and fourth in even-strength ice-time per game).
For Claude Noel to move Byfuglien up front would be to exacerbate the team’s greatest weakness and further damage a defensive depth chart already missing Tobias Enstrom. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul – sacrificing at a position of weakness to help shore up a position of slightly lesser weakness.