The Winnipeg Jets have a problem. A big problem. His name is Dustin Byfuglien. No, he’s not a cancer in the locker room. Yes, he’s an excellent hockey player. In fact, Big Buff was the lone Jets representative at the recent John Scott celebration, officially known as the NHL All-Star Game in Nashville.
The problem isn’t Dustin Byfuglien the hockey player. Nor is it Dustin Byfuglien the man. It’s the future of Dustin Byfuglien and what the Jets should do.
We all know Byfuglien is an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
From a strictly hockey standpoint, the answer is simple. The Jets should sign Big Buff before Canada Day. He is a game-changer. His 6-5, 260 pound frame gives him a size and physical advantage over most NHL players. Combine that size with a skill-set that includes a booming shot, versatility in that he can play either defence or forward , physical prowess and keen hockey sense, you have one of the most unique and gifted players in the sport today.
What Dustin Byfuglien lacks in speed he makes up for in mass. #NHLAllStar
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) January 31, 2016
Analytics support this. His 54.5% corsi and 53.9% fenwick is considered very good on teams that are high in the standings. The Jets are currently have the 25th best record in the NHL. Buff’s numbers are outstanding on a team that has underachieved this season.
The tricky issue is money. Currently, the Jets cap hit stands at $60.645 million which is second lowest in the NHL. With roughly $11 million in cap space, the Jets in theory, should have no problem re-signing Buff.
However, the Jets do have other players that need new contracts. Team captain Andrew Ladd is also set to hit the open market this summer and his current contract status is iffy at best. Young stars Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele are seeing their entry level deals end this season and both are poised for big raises. Trouba and Scheifele will become restricted free agents on July 1 meaning the Jets can match any offer, but if a team(s) overpays for one or both players, the Jets could lose at least one if not both key building blocks for the future.
The weak Canadian dollar is a factor as well. With the majority of hockey revenue coming from Canada, a spiralling dollar doesn’t help to raise revenues for the league. If revenues don’t go up, the salary cap will be frozen as well. This doesn’t bode well for teams that need to either sign new or hold on to existing assets.
Let’s not forget, Byfuglien is 30 years old and entering the latter stages of his career. While Byfuglien does have some good years left, his body has taken a beating over the years and big men tend to break down sooner than smaller players. (Zdeno Chara is an exception to this rule.)
What about trading Big Buff? He would command a hefty price in the trade market. Yes, the Jets could trade Ladd instead but Byfuglien would bring in a bigger return. (Ladd’s trade value may go up as the trade deadline draws closer.)
There would be plenty of interest in Big Buff. TSN listed him as the number one player that is trade bait at the deadline.
— Ron Duguay (@RonDuguay10) February 1, 2016
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) February 2, 2016
Trading Buff does have some advantages. The Jets could get back some much-needed scoring depth up-front or they could nab a left-handed defenceman that can eat quality minutes. Eventually, Josh Morrissey will fill that role but he isn’t ready yet. Toby Enstrom is fine but Ben Chiarot has struggled this season and Mark Stuart is an absolute train wreck!
The Jets could also add some top prospects or a high draft pick in a trade for Byfuglien to ensure a brighter future.
On the flip side, there are major drawbacks in trading Byfuglien. As mentioned earlier, Byfuglien is a unique talent that is virtually impossible to replace. There aren’t many 6-5 260 pound hockey players in the first place and there’s only one 6-5, 260 pound player that is highly skilled at hockey and surprise, surprise, that player is Dustin Byfuglien.
Another drawback would be the psychological effect it would have on the team and the city. By all accounts, Byfuglien is popular and his looked upon as one of the leaders in the dressing room. No better example of that happened when Buff allegedly threw Evander Kane’s tracksuit into the shower after Kane was late for a team meeting (not the first time that happened) and violated the dress code as well. It was Buff who acted and the result was Kane being shipped to Buffalo in a blockbuster deal. The team and the organization stood behind Buff throughout this soap opera.
Big Buff is also the most popular player amongst Jets fans. Venture into the MTS Centre on a game night and you’ll see plenty of blue Jets sweaters with #33 adorned on the back.
Byfuglien became a hero in this city in the first preseason game back in 2011, when he laid out two members of the Columbus Blue Jackets in his first shift.
If Big Buff were to be dealt out of Winnipeg, the fans here would be heartbroken. It would be close to the same feeling as when Teemu Selanne was traded to Anaheim in 1996, just before the 1.0 version of the Jets left for Phoenix.
So what does Byfuglien think of all this? The big man doesn’t talk to the media very much as he prefers to let his actions speak for themselves. He did grant an interview with Frank Seravalli of TSN just prior to the All-Star break and his response to whether he would prefer to stay in Winnipeg was interesting.
“I just want to put on a jersey to be honest with you. I don’t mind Winnipeg at all. It’s close to home for me – it’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to play at home. There’s so many good things that I like about Winnipeg. I can do my outdoor stuff that I love to do. I have no problem being up there.”
Seravalli described that answer as Buff being “lukewarm” about coming back to Winnipeg but I think it’s Buff not wanting to show his cards and overstate his answer. Buff has a laid back style when it comes to interviews and he is somewhat media-shy. So don’t read too much into it.
After the Jets 5-3 loss to Dallas on Tuesday, Buff held court with the media and when asked if he wanted to stay in Winnipeg, his answer was definitely not “lukewarm.”
— Gino Reda (@GinoRedaTSN) February 3, 2016
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has a very difficult decision ahead of him. While I don’t envy the spot he’s in, Chevy should have stepped up and made his move by now. He knew the situation and the ramifications of waiting too long to make a decision. Instead of having things under control, the Jets find themselves in the middle of a frenzy. Every media insider have their eyes looking squarely at Chevy and company to see what there move will be. Everyone in the NHL knows what a valuable asset Byfuglien is. Every team would love to have him. Like Buff, Chevy doesn’t like the spotlight on him either but he will be the focal point of discussions leading up to the February 29 trade deadline and beyond. The pressure is on Chevy not to just make a decision but to make the right decision. The wrong choice could spell disaster for the club.