It was made very clear at the start of the season that Dustin Byfuglien would be a forward for the Winnipeg Jets. It wasn’t Big Buff’s choice. That decision was made by head coach Paul Maurice. The hulking native of Roseau, Minnesota preferred to be on the blue line, but he respected his coach’s wishes.
Placed on the third line with Mathieu Perrault and Adam Lowry, Byfuglien quickly was promoted to the second line after an injury to Evander Kane in the season opener. Still, Byfuglien pined for a role on the blue line. Some line juggling saw the former Prince George Cougar see different line mates throughout the early part of the season. Then his break came.
Injuries Forces A Move
The Jets blue line became decimated with injuries over a three-week span. Toby Enstrom went down with a lower body injury on November 23. Zach Bogosian was sidelined with a lower body injury on December 3. Jacob Trouba was felled with an upper body injury on December 13. Finally, Mark Stuart was sent to the infirmary on December 16 with a lower body injury. The Jets defence corps was resembling a MASH unit.
Maurice had no choice but to move Byfuglien back to defence and the results have been impressive.
— Jeff Hamilton (@jeffkhamilton) December 4, 2014
Since December 5 which was Byfuglien’s first game as a defenceman, the Jets have gone 7-4-3 while maintaining a wildcard spot in the tough Western Conference. Meanwhile, Byfuglien has recorded 4 goals and 7 assists during his time at the back end. Byfuglien’s corsi percentage during his tenure on the blue line is 53.5% compared to his corsi percentage at forward which is at 48.3%.
Another benefit of Byfuglien on the blue line as been the emergence of Ben Chiarot. While Buff is known to roam around the ice and not afraid to jump into the attack, Chiarot is the stay-at-home defenceman that will cover for Buff’s forays up the ice. Byfuglien, for one is appreciative of Chiarot’s presence.
“I’m proud of him. He’s really earned it. He’s had to go through a lot playing with me.”
The odd pairing has become the number one defence pairing for the Jets, often matching up against the opponents’ top line. Chiarot even got onto the score sheet against the Toronto Maple Leafs, scoring his first NHL goal and picking up an assist. While Chiarot isn’t expected to put up offensive numbers, his steady, yet physical play on the blue line has been a godsend to the Jets depleted blue line.
Does Buff Stay On The Blue Line?
When the likes of Trouba, Enstrom, Bogosian and Stuart return from their injuries, the question will be asked: Will Dustin Byfuglien remain on the blue line? If his excellent play continues, the answer should be yes and it can work.
Buff and Chiarot can remain a defensive pairing. Bogosian and Enstrom will reunite when healthy, while Trouba and Stuart can do the same once they return. That will leave some extra d-men on the outside looking in.
Recently acquired Jay Harrison has contributed positively since his arrival from Carolina. But the pairing of Adam Pardy and Paul Postma have struggled. Don’t be surprised if one or perhaps both players find themselves on the waiver wire when everybody returns.
Finally, there is the contract issue. Byfuglien has one year left on his deal after this season that pays him $5.2 million. If the Jets move Byfuglien back to forward, he may get disgruntled and seek other options once his contract is up.
When everyone comes back on D what happens to Buff? Coach Maurice "If Dustin Byfuglien plays the way he's playing, he's playing defence."
— Dave Minuk (@ICdave) January 7, 2015
It would be wise to keep Byfuglien on defence. He will be content and play better hockey which in turn will help the Jets strive for that elusive playoff spot.