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Would the Jets be better off with Byfuglien on defense?

Aug 2, 2014, 9:33 PM EST

Winnipeg Jets v Phoenix Coyotes Getty Images

When it comes to Winnipeg Jets defenseman/forward/science experiment on ice Dustin Byfuglien, it’s easy to overlook the positives and linger on negative headlines about his weight and defensive acumen.

Let there be no doubt about it, though: there are few (if any) players quite like Byfuglien. Erik Karlsson is the only defenseman who has topped Byfuglien’s 190 points since Big Buff was traded to then-Atlanta before the 2010-11 season.

Of course, it’s probably not accurate to call him a defenseman … at least not now. The question is: should Jets head coach Paul Maurice move him back to the blueline, though?

It’s a question that’s probably a little more complicated than both sides of the argument might think.

Why they might want to move him back to D

Arctic Ice Hockey generated some compelling and pretty stark comparisons between “Byfuglien the forward” and “Byfuglien the defenseman.” You don’t need to squint your eyes to see the dramatic statistical differences between the 29-year-old’s superior work from the blueline vs. his time as one of the team’s forwards. If nothing else, that same site made a reasonable argument that “Buffy the Hamburger Slayer” might not have been used in the most ideal forward combinations.

Ultimately, it’s unclear if Byfuglien can be effective as a forward, while he’s been an All-Star as a defenseman. Even if you have doubts about his positioning/”hockey IQ,” there’s a growing school of thought that the best defense is to be on offense more often … and Byfuglien (the defenseman) might just be a poster child for that movement.

Beyond that thought, there’s also a rather simple extra argument in favor of moving him back to D: he’d probably log more ice time. That’s really Maurice’s call to make, but defensemen generally find themselves getting more reps and it’s best to have your superior players on the ice more often than not …

Forward-thinking

  • The Jets might simply believe that he’s more of an upgrade over the forward he’s moving down the lineup than the defenseman he’d shuffle around. With some promising pieces like Jacob Trouba emerging, it’s not unreasonable to make such an argument.
  • As he gets older, questions about his mobility will only increase. Risk-averse coaches will likely feel more comfortable with Byfuglien receiving fewer responsibilities.
  • Moving a player like Byfuglien from the crease is a foreboding task, and while he can still get into position to screen goalies as a “rover,” it’s a more reasonable proposition as a traditional forward.

***

In the interest of avoiding poll fatigue, let’s hash this out in the comments. Which move is in Winnipeg’s best interest: keeping Byfuglien at forward or on defense? Or should Maurice just throw a dart before each game? So many options …

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  1. endusersolutions2013 - Aug 2, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    One conclusion I think we can make is, having played on a WC contender then on an SC champion, I think big Buf misses playing on a contender.

    • endusersolutions2013 - Aug 2, 2014 at 11:25 PM

      Another interesting thing is that 3 of their top 6 scorers are guys who the Hawks had to part with due to cap issues, whom they would have wanted to retain. Not not internal player growth in 4 years.

  2. guitarhunterdude - Aug 3, 2014 at 12:18 AM

    This reminds me of the situation with Brent Burns in San Jose, but in reverse. Byfuglien is a decent forward, but a very good defenseman; Brent Burns is a very good defenseman, but an awesome power forward (one of the best per-60 goalscorers in the league and a big-time possession driver, arguably the biggest reason the Sharks went from a mediocre possession team a few years ago to the monstrous possession beast they’ve been lately).

    Keep Buff on D. Keep Burns on the wing.

    • pfpmb - Aug 3, 2014 at 1:06 AM

      I like Brent Burns as a hockey player but where did this “monstrous possession beast” get San Jose in last years playoffs?

      • wutangwild - Aug 3, 2014 at 1:48 AM

        Check his advanced stats, Burns is good. The melt down that occurred was MUCH more than just him, it will be interesting to see what both SJ and Jets do regarding those two

      • guitarhunterdude - Aug 3, 2014 at 8:48 AM

        His style of play does seem to wear him down over the course of a season, I’ll give you that. He wasn’t as good as the season went on, and by the playoffs seemed kinda worn out.

        The “monstrous possession beast” in San Jose also happened to run into an even bigger, tougher, better possession beast in LA, which didn’t help either. And even with that said, using possession as a predictor is most useful over a full season; anything can happen over one (or even two or three) seven-game series. A couple players (especially a goalie) can get hot and carry a bad team over a better one. Heck, we saw that all season with the Avs last year, and with the Leafs the year before.

        Basically, good possession is the most consistent way to win games, but it’s hardly a guarantee you’ll win the cup. Just look at the Devils: Good possession team, but a squad of below-average scorers and shoddy goaltending kept them out of the playoffs. San Jose needs another defenseman (or two) and a better goalie. Which, I’m sure, means people want to move Burns back to D. That’s the easiest solution, but I don’t think the benefits of having Burns on the first pair outweigh the benefits of having him at forward. Partially because he’s so good as a winger, and partially because Vlasic has been good enough to carry whoever is next to him and cover for them if they’re bad. Also, the forward depth that San Jose has had since they moved Burns to wing is unparalleled; since that’s what they rely on, compromising it sounds like a bad idea to me.

        Sorry for rambling.

  3. ray2013 - Aug 3, 2014 at 1:13 AM

    Trade him for picks and prospects.

  4. enzod91 - Aug 3, 2014 at 2:36 AM

    Put him on D with a shutdown partner that thinks defense first….or put him on the first line with Little and Ladd..either way I want Big Buff back in Chicago!!!

  5. scrouch - Aug 3, 2014 at 6:52 AM

    He’s has times where it made sense to have him on D but last year there were too many times that his poor defensive play caused goals against. Offensive defensemen are good but not when the defensive part of his game is a major liability. And unfortunately, when the Jets tried to play a tighter, more structured game, his poor in-zone coverage was an even bigger factor than the number of odd-man rushes against that he gave up. The problem with arctic ice hockey is that they go off the assumption that in theory when you have good corsi, you should be scoring more than your opponent because every shot from anywhere on the ice has the identical chance of going in. When in reality that isn’t the case. In reality, with Buff on defence, teams for the past couple years have been playing Winnipeg patiently in the neutral zone and waiting to capitalize on the mistakes that their overly-aggressive D will eventually make. He also tends to start the year pretty well but up until now has tended to slow down mid-way through and is no longer able to recover from being out of position. On a skilled team in the Eastern Conference, playing him on D could work. Definitely not as much of an issue when they were in the Southeast. But in the Central when every team plays really good structure and is tight defensively, and still has skilled players to capitalize on mistakes, that isn’t going to work. At least not when the Jets don’t have an edge in talent over really anyone in the division.

  6. rainyday56 - Aug 3, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Canucks should trade for him and use him with the twins on the power play.

  7. pavelfitzgerald - Aug 3, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Due to the depth that the Jets have on defence it is highly unlikely Byf will be a full-time d-men. I’m hopeful he gets to play in the top 6 (maybe Wheeler/Schiefele/Byfuglien?) & not on the 3rd line like last year.
    I think they will continue to use him on the point on the powerplay because of his howitzer & to partially satisfy his desire to play defence

  8. rickscherger - Aug 3, 2014 at 7:07 PM

    Anyone who thinks hes better on D has never actually watched him play

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