After scratching him for two consecutive games with an undisclosed lower-body injury, the Jets appear to be shutting defenseman Dustin Byfuglien down. With a less than 1% chance of making the playoffs, this move should come as a no-brainer, no matter the severity of his injury. The Jets put a lot of eggs in their Buff basket last winter, signing him to a five-year, $38M deal. With his hefty salary, it’s best to use a delicate approach and limit his wear and tear when necessary. The 11-year vet has already had a very long season.
Letting Byfuglien play any longer would just be pouring salt on his wounds.
Remember, the Jets caught a break with Byfuglien willing to sign in Winnipeg for only five years. He was projected to garner seven years on the open market, easily. But even with the term they saved, Buff will be 36-years-old upon the expiration of his contract. His quality of play will decline the more he wears out, especially when you consider that he already has faulty knees.
Byfuglien, who turns 32 today, has played the most minutes of any skater in the NHL. The Jacob Trouba holdout and injury to Tyler Myers caused his TOI to sky-rocket this season. He’s already clocked 2031:42 worth of ice time, just shy of the 2041:27 he played in all of 2015-16. With a stretch of meaningless games approaching, it would be pointless to continue running him ragged.
Not only does shutting down ‘Big Buff’ benefit the Jets’ long-term outlook with Byfuglien, it opens up more playing time for a guy like Nelson Nogier. In this situation, experience helps the young player, as well as management with a body of NHL work to evaluate him on. With the uncertainty surrounding Tucker Poolman signing and Paul Postma becoming a UFA this summer, depth defenseman roles could be opening up. And while it’s unlikely Nogier ever becomes a legitimate NHLer, it’s at least worth checking him out in the dying days of a lost season.
There is also more value in losses at this point in the year than wins. Taking Byfuglien out of the equation would help the Jets tank for a higher draft pick. Since you can never get players to intentionally tank, the only way to influence losses is by icing an inferior team. With quality blue liners such as Myers and Toby Enstrom already out, removing Byfuglien from the lineup increases the team’s odds of losing even more. And although the 2017 draft class isn’t necessarily loaded with top end talent like last year’s, going for a higher selection is never a bad idea. The probability of a quality player increases the higher you draft.
There’s even the chance, albeit rather small, of Buff suffering a severe injury in the last leg of this disappointing season.
Even if it’s only for six more games, we shouldn’t see any more of him. There’s value in Byfuglien sitting from both long and short-term perspectives. Nothing will be able to top his appearance on last night’s heartwarming edition of Hometown Hockey anyway, which if you haven’t seen, you probably should (click here).
Why not end on the highest note possible?