Should the Jets extend Ladd or Byfuglien: The case for Dustin Byfuglien

The Winnipeg Jets have some crucial decisions to make on their future. The outcome from such decisions may not make or break the franchise, but the impact cannot be denied.

The Jets have their two biggest expiring contracts since the franchise move to Winnipeg.

As it currently stands, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd enter unrestricted free agency and look to receive significant paydays July 1st, 2016. Not only do the Jets have their two biggest names at forward and defence garner raises, but their two biggest young forwards leave their entry level contracts that same summer. Skepticism surrounding the Canadian dollar and its potential impacts just add to the pile.

It’s easy to see why some say the Jets are substantially unlikely to keep both Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien in the long run.

If the Jets had to keep one, which one should it be? We look at the case for choosing Dustin Byfuglien here.

Entertainment

Believe it or not, the NHL is an entertainment business first and foremost. Yes, organizations try to win, but the end game for most is selling tickets and attracting a fanbase.

Arctic Ice Hockey managing editor and friend of mine, Tim Bonnar once appropriately noted that often the joy with watching Big Buff alone was worth the price in admission.

True North wants to win, but they also do not want to bleed money and keep their customer base excited with their product. It doesn’t take much time to think back at some of the amazing things Byfuglien does to entertain and keep fans at the edge of their seats.

Who can forget Dustin Byfuglien smashing players like toy dolls, or Matt Hendricks bouncing off like the 210+ lbs forward was 140? Who can forget Byfuglien individually deciding to put the game on his back at overtime?

Byfuglien is a pure and unique talent, which makes him all the more fun to watch.

Overall Impact

Byfuglien is not just an unique talent, but an effective one.

He has his bloopers and warts, but Byfuglien can be a powerful weapon — even if it is sometimes a double edged sword.

When the Jets have deployed Byfuglien as a defensemen at even strength, they have both out shot and out scored their opponents more than they have with Byfuglien deployed as a forward or on the bench.

That’s not to say that Ladd doesn’t do that either. Ladd has long been underrated by some considering Ladd not a bonafide top-line talent. In fact, both are incredibly effective in regular and underlying metrics. 

However, while Ladd is a bonafide top-line talent, Byfuglien is a bonafide star. Byfuglien has been nominated as an All-Star every season he has been eligible as a defender.

While Ladd sits 27th in the goals created per game statistic for forwards since the 2010-11 season, Byfuglien sits second only to Erik Karlsson for defenders. In the same data set, Ladd sits in 36th for points per game, while Byfuglien sits at 3rd.

For forwards with 1000+ minutes over the same time frame, Ladd ranks 21st in Corsi relative to teammates (a weighted WOWY), while Byfuglien ranks 14th — despite playing significant minutes as a forward where Byfuglien is a negative player.

In addition, the impact difference between a high-end performing top-minute defender versus a low-end is larger than the impact difference between with forwards.

Age Curves

Eric Tulsky, now of the Carolina Hurricanes, did the bulk of research on player developmental curves and how one should expect players to age.

Using the same method as Tulsky, we can look at how much of Ladd’s and Byfuglien’s impact on shot differentials we expect the two to retain 5 years down the road.

It may be surprising to some, but on average we would expect a forward at Ladd’s age to drop by just over three percentage points, while a defender at Byfuglien’s age to drop by around two. In other words, the average forward drops in effectiveness more so than the average defender does.

In addition, most players impact drops fastest in 5v5 impact, while their is a decent amount of retention in power play scoring. Because of this factor, most aging players rely on their power play prowess to remain productive for the team. 

There are some concerns though with Byfuglien being an exception due to health and size factors.

Byfuglien dominates in the power play, and at a much higher fashion than Ladd.

Final Thoughts

The Jets may be stuck with having to choose between Ladd and Byfuglien. If that ends up the case, who should they choose?

Byfuglien is a force on the ice. He can dominate the game and is a joy to watch. The impact Byfuglien has is larger than Ladd’s. We would expect the average defender to retain a greater percentage of their effectiveness over the next 5 years, especially a power play dominant one.

These reasons suggest that the Jets should extend Byfuglien if their hand is forced.

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    This might sound kinda wacky but I say try to extend both to reasonable cap hits and if you have to eventually trade one then trade one. Better to lose an asset for pennies on the dollar due to a cap crunch than to lose one for nothing in free agency. Plus, they might want to win another cup so keeping them on board for reasonable salary might not be impossible ’cause them plus our prospects should be a great team in a couple years!