What To Expect From Byfuglien

Picture via Twitter

Honesty time. I’ve been sitting at my computer for about 20 minutes now trying to think of how to open up this article. I tried wit, direct humour, pulling at emotions, a weight loss reference, everything. And well, I’ve got nothing. Truth is, I was bored at work and started thinking about Dustin Byfuglien. People seem to really love the guy, or hate the guy. Some have really high expectations, some have really low. Some think he should be traded, others are sure he will be traded, and there are many who think he is way to valuable to ever consider moving.

Earlier this summer the above picture of Byfuglien made rounds on twitter, and talks of what to expect from the "new, skinny" Byfuglien have been heating up. Now let me say, it was one picture. None of us really know if Buff has lost weight, gotten into great shape etc. but hey, he does look a lot thinner in that picture. While it may not be possible to know exactly what will happen next season, what we can do is take a look at what he has been able to do previously, how he is changing as time goes by and try to take a guess. Therefore, I decided to take a look and see what I could find in regards to Dustin Byfuglien, and try to get an idea for what might happen this upcoming season. Here’s what I found:

Byfuglien on His Own

I started by taking a look at how Dustin has evolved as a defenseman. He first played the position following his trade to Atlanta for the start of the 2010-11 season. That year Byfuglien lit up the league offensively, earning All-Star honours fresh off of a Stanley Cup victory in Chicago. He has yet been able to reproduce those numbers, and here’s why:

Dustin Byfuglien 5 vs. 5


Rel Corsi

Rel Corsi QoC

O-Zone Start %

O-Zone Finish %
















Dustin Byfuglien 5 vs. 5

























All stats from behindthenet or stats.hockeyanalysis

This my friends, is advanced stats 101. Since the move to Winnipeg and change at head coach, Buff has been used less as a pure offensive powerhouse and more as a top line "shut down-ish" defenseman. He’s been facing tougher competition on a regular basis, seen his offensive zone start percentages drop, and thus his offensive output (as seen by his shots for per 60 & goals for per 20, and goals for percentage) has gone down. There is very little denying though that he is still a threat on the blue line, and provides an often anemic Jets power play at least one threat.

His defensive numbers have also been altered since the change, and looking at his GA20, one could say this hasn’t exactly been for the best. I am hesitant though to attribute the degree to which it changed simply to his new role. Since the 2010-11 season, Dustin’s offensive zone start percentage has dropped by a full 5.5%, and he has become increasingly better at driving play in the other direction. His SF/60 has taken a hit of 5.21 shots, yet he has managed to hold his SA/60 to a rather small 2.0 shot increase. Yet, his GA20 has skyrocketed in comparison to his GF20 drop off. This can be attributed to a variety of factors outside of Byfuglien’s control, including Pavelec’s drop in performance (his SV% has steadily dropped over the last 3 seasons) and the time he has spent away from Toby Enstrom due to injury (I’ll get to the importance of that shortly). Due to these factors, I feel it safe to say that Coach Noel’s decision to "reign in" Byfuglien and have him play more of a defensive-defenseman role has been a good one, and would be paying off a lot more if not for some unfortunate circumstances. Namely, an inability to address problems in goal to this point, or find a suitable backup partner for the big guy.

Speaking of suitable partners…

Byfuglien with Defensive Partners

One look at the following chart will say it all:

Dustin Byfuglien With 5 vs. 5 2010-2013





















All stats from behindthenet or stats.hockeyanalysis

Looking at the three players Dustin has played with most over the last three seasons (that are still with the Jets), it is clear to see that Buff is by far at his best defensively if he’s paired up with Enstrom. Despite the fact that the two have been starting more often in their own end of the ice they control the puck pretty well, and even with Pavelec in net they have managed positive goals-for percentage.

Should Noel desire a more open, high risk – high reward style of play, Buff and Clitsome together can provide some offense and to this point have managed to score more than their opponents (as seen by their GF%). I have big questions though as to whether or not they can successfully sustain that throughout the majority of a season, and the Jets forwards just do not provide enough to be in shootouts every night. Byfuglien and Stuart together? Well… no thank you.

So What Can We Expect?

Well, judging from the moves the Jets have made this offseason, it’s easy to expect that they will approach this upcoming year in a very similar fashion as the previous two. With the departure of Ron Hainsey (the Jets Rel. Corsi QoC defensive leader last year), odds are Byfuglien and Enstrom will see themselves logging the toughest minutes on the team, limiting Dustin’s abilities to repeat his 2010-11 offensive output. (That is unless he can put up absolutely unbelievable offense on a Jets power play that has barely had a pulse over the past couple years)

That being said, I believe that he has the chance to be a truly successful top pairing D-man with the numbers to back it up, should a couple things happen. First, he needs some help in net. It’s been the story for this team for years now. People refuse to believe that the Jets have been a solid defensive team with poor goaltending behind them, and choose to inaccurately accuse the blue line of inadequate play. Byfuglien may as well be the poster boy for this myth, as he and Enstrom are truly an effective top pairing duo.

Speaking of Enstrom, that leads me to the second chip that must fall in Buff’s favour. Toby must stay healthy if we want to see Byfuglien at his best, and quite frankly if we want to see the Jets go anywhere this season at all. As shown above, Byfuglien’s scoring does go up when he plays with Clitsome (the logical fill with this current roster), but their play together is far too risky to rely on it for an extended period of time. It was with Enstrom’s departure last year that the Jets power play dropped and the departure of Hainsey this offseason means that Enstrom going out again this year will leave a huge hole. So to summarize. If Enstrom gets hurt: Byfuglien’s play likely drops, the team likely suffers, fans get angry, and something drastic will EVENTUALLY happen. Take a guess as to who’s contract has a very limited no trade clause allowing him to eliminate all but 5 teams…

In the end, all we can do at this point is fantasize about the kind of player Dustin Byfuglien may become if he truly has turned his fitness around. In my opinion though, unless Claude Noel changes his personal approach to Buff’s play (unlikely) I don’t see his offensive numbers blowing up. Instead, I see him becoming more of a Chara-esk, intimidating, shut down player that can provide a threat on the blue line.

Wouldn’t that be nice.

  • Kevin McCartney

    I think Buff is one those cases where the Jets can only make a trade in which they give up the best player. Bad teams unload good players for a few medium players. Bottom 4 defencemen and better-than-36th goalies are entirely possible to add by any franchise. In fact, unless you’re the Flyers, it’s hard to avoid adding those pieces.

    As Lowetide would say, the team has some jacks and kings, and needs a few 7s and 8s (and probably some 10s). Hard to get better by trading a jack on the basis that we wish he was a king.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd…
    Buff is a top defenseman on the Jets…
    who is making over 5 million dollars a year.
    Everyone is falling all over themselves with excitment…that he “may” not be fat and out of shape this season…Woo Hoo!

    He has potential…lots and lots of potential.
    At 28 it should be realized…and frankly it isn’t.
    He will not throw a body check in most games…so his size is a non factor.

    He will be ok for the rest of his career…
    just not a lot better…
    it just doesn’t matter that much to him.