Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane are the two most divisive figures in the Winnipeg Jets organization. Depending on the week, fans and media alike want one of these two players run out of town, offering almost identical criticism for both. Critics accuse both players of being inconsistent, lazy, and
black not team players.
This week we’ll be taking a closer look at Dustin Byfuglien, because Evander Kane is helping Mark Scheifele produce, who Jets pundits do like because he’s white-hot right now. (But I digress)
The calls to trade Byfuglien are back and as loud as they’ve ever been. Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote a particularily scathing piece on the matter this past , saying the Jets need to cut their losses with Byfuglien and accept that "he’s not meant to be a foundation piece". Paul Freisen at the Winnipeg Sun thinks that if GM Kevin Chevedayoff "isn’t trying to trade No. 33, he’s not trying to make the Jets better". The Sun’s Kirk Penton later asked inarticulately, "how can the Jets not afford to move to Byfuglien to forward?"
There’s no doubt Byfuglien has been having a rough go of it in his own end lately. Some might say that the three goals and five points Byfuglien amassed during Winnipeg’s recent four-game losing streak doesn’t make up for the numerous giveaways against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay that resulted in a minus-5 over the same stretch. What should the Jets do with such a high-risk, high-reward player?
Lawless and his cohorts are right: ideally, Byfuglien is used moderately against tough competition, and heavily in scoring situations. However, and it feels like this should go without saying, Byfuglien has no say in either the minutes he plays nor the role he fills on the Jets. Those designations fall on the shoulders of Head Coach Claude Noel and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, respectively, and it’s their job to diagnose and fix problems. No matter how you spin it, getting rid of a point-per-game defenseman should never be a top priority in today’s NHL.
Every team in the NHL is looking for scoring from the back-end, and no defenseman this side of Erik Karlsson has scored more points over the past three seasons than Dustin Byfuglien. If the return for Byfuglien is a second-line centre like Edmonton’s Sam Gagner (as the rumour goes), then the Jets lose one of their top scorers, fill the defensive void with Adam Pardy or Mark Stuart, and throw the 2C on the pile with Olli Jokinen and Mark Scheifele.
Never has a player run out of town by the media brought back a package that made the team better. But maybe this time…