Remember when Dustin Byfuglien wasn’t trusted on the back end?
The fluctuation from forward to defense started to become normal at times for Byfuglien during his tenure with the Jets. But the 2015-2016 season saw Byfuglien patrolling the blue line for all 81 games the defender dressed, and doing a pretty good job at that.
The Jets locked up their elite defenseman to a 5 year 38 million dollar contract this past season and prevented their number one defenseman from hitting the open market.
Noticed how I said elite in that sentence? That’s no mistake, Byfuglien is an elite defenseman in the NHL and there is no questioning that now.
It’s rather impressive to see how far Byfuglien has come since being deemed a “defensive liability” or “lazy” and the most common critic, “overweight.” Can you say any of those things now?
Byfuglien is no longer the same defensive liability for the club; he’s drastically improved his short comings in the defensive area of his game. After hitting a low point in his plus/minus differential with a -20 rating in the 2013-2014 season, Byfuglien has kept his head over water and been a plus player the last two seasons, with a +5 rating in 2014-2015 and a +5 rating during the 2015-2016 season.
What’s even more telling is his even strength goal differential:
|2011-2012||58 GF||60 GA|
|2012-2013||36 GF||38 GA|
|2013-2014||50 GF||72 GA**|
|2014-2015||44 GF||39 GA|
** 2013-2014 season is a hard one to judge Byfuglien’s performance by, goaltending was quite poor with starting goaltender having a 3.01 GAA through the course of his 55 games played.
The data shows that through the first three years as a Jet, Byfuglien was on the ice for more even strength goals against than on the ice for goals for. In the last two years, the tables have turned and was on the ice for more goals than against.
“His game is at a point now where we wouldn’t consider putting him up front.” Head Coach Paul Maurice told the Winnipeg Sun back in March. ” We need him on the back end.”
His improvement has been substantial and it’s elevated him to elite status.
Number 33 posted the 5th most goals by a defender this past season with 19 and over the last two seasons his offensive production has tallied up to 0.65 points per game. Last season Byfuglien was second among defenseman in game winning goals with 6, 3rd in shots with 247, all the while logging a team high 25:12 minutes a night for the Jets, which is the 13th most among defenseman.
Byfgulien’s improved play garnered the attention of team USA and he was named to team USA’s world cup roster where he will be playing among the worlds best against the worlds best.
You can’t really compare Byfuglien to other defenseman in the league, because he’s one of a kind. He has top 15 offensive numbers for defenseman, he can take the tough assignments and do things the numbers can’t show.
When “Big Buff” lays the body, it is felt throughout the building and it sends a message to the opposing squad that is unparralled.
This front row video of Dustin Byfuglien’s huge hit on Mark Stone is crazy ? https://t.co/LEggvqi1aB
— Goalie Ways (@GoalieWays) April 2, 2016
While his team leading 222 hits this season may have only been 19th in the league, it’s quality over quantity when looking at his bone crushing hits. He possesses the ability to change the course of a game with his intimidating presence. How often do you see someone brave enough to mix it up with Byfuglien between the whistles? Not very often, who would dare to enter a joust with the 6’5, 260 lb defender?
The 4-time All Star is truly one of a kind. He can score the game winning goal, get in the thick of scrap, make the big hit and as of recently, play rather responsibly defensively. A complete game with a sort of grittiness and intensity that rarely crosses the line, but does it ever get the point across to the opposing team. Bundle that all together, and you’ve got a changed and transformed Byfuglien.
One that is among the best and elite class of the league.