On The Bright Side: Dustin Byfuglien

Dustin Byfuglien re-signing in Winnipeg was like a small candle being lit in a pitch-dark room. It wasn’t much light, but it was something.

In the midst of perhaps their most painful season in their five years in Winnipeg, the Jets received the best news all season long when Byfuglien put ink to paper. After all, what Byfuglien brings to the Jets only comes along once in a blue moon, and Jets fans are beyond fortunate that Byfuglien calls this team his own, and will for five more years. I mean, imagine the massive, nasty, skilled blueliner playing against the Jets for that long. It’s a thought as scary as his contract extension was relieving.

Take whatever positives you like from the Byfuglien signing. A top-tier player who could’ve gotten enough money as an unrestricted free agent to build a guest house out of dollar bills chose to stay in Winnipeg (and settle for building a small garage; I’m not saying he came cheap). The franchise was able to keep a player who loves to play to the crowd, who is unique, and who seems to want to stay in Winnipeg. The team doesn’t have to worry about the 265-pound (or so) wrecking ball leveling Jets players the way he levels the other teams, to Winnipeg fans’ delight. Take your pick. There’s all that and more to love about Buff being in the North for five years more.

With or Without the Puck

There may be no player in the NHL who combines size, skill and physicality as well as Byfuglien. When I wrote a piece earlier in the month imploring the Jets to sign Big Buff (which I’m sure Jets management read thoroughly before making the informed decision to re-sign the big man), I wrote that Byfuglien is unique in the NHL. The short time that has passed between now and then hasn’t changed that in the slightest. Losing Andrew Ladd is going to sting, no doubt, but if the choice between Ladd and Buff had to be made, Kevin Cheveldayoff made the right one.

The reason for this is simple: big forwards who can both hit and score are rare, and are appropriately expensive, but defensemen like Byfuglien are … well, there are no defensemen like Byfuglien.

Byfuglien may not be as poised as Duncan Keith, nor as smooth as Drew Doughty. He doesn’t shoot as hard as Shea Weber, he doesn’t pass as well as Erik Karlsson, and he doesn’t hit like … actually he might be the best hitter in the NHL right now. The point is, no other player combines these attributes the way Byfuglien does. When his million-dollar personality manifests itself in his game with smooth, often cheeky plays, it’s entertaining hockey at its finest.

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Byfuglien isn’t without his risks, to be sure. He’s not always the best decision maker on the ice, and sometimes his rushes leave him caught up ice. He’s fast, but not particularly quick, and as such can sometimes be caught on the turn (but be honest, how quick would you be at his size?). Yet for all that, he’s still one of the most purely talented and entertaining players the Jets have ever had, and may ever have.

Bright Spot in a Dark Season

Jets fans know full well just how bad this season has been. Heck, it was a need to search for positivity in this dismal year that started this series in the first place. We’re here to look for bright spots, and in Byfuglien, we found a great one. This year, Buff stood up and not only is among the Jets’ leading goal scorers but, admittedly after some negotiation, came out and said he wanted to call Winnipeg home through the prime years of his career into what will likely be the last years of it. Given how bad the team has been, and just how few players actually want to come to Winnipeg in the first place, that’s a rare thing, and a thing to be appreciated when you find it.

In Byfuglien, Winnipeg has their own little unique piece of hockey, the one player on the Jets that never fails to get media talking with his big hits, heavy shot, pretty goals and larger-than-life personality. The Jets have a player whose teammates are proud to call him one of their own, whose opponents fear him like no other player and who genuinely wants to be in the city. In short, Winnipeg has a player they can be proud of. As far as the national media is concerned, the roster has a face of the franchise, even if Jets fans feel Blake Wheeler deserves that distinction.

In a bleak and dismal season, that’s something Jets fans can be proud of. Well, that and the fact that Byfuglien can do a pretty good “dab.”

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Dab on, Big Buff. I’m looking forward to five more years of plays like this, and five more years of larger-than-life hits from a larger-than-life man.