Dustin Byfuglien made one thing clear in his February 2nd postgame interview: he wants to stay in Winnipeg. For the Winnipeg Jets, this is the best possible news.
In a season full of goaltending turmoil, injury troubles and crises of both identity and leadership, this is the best news the Jets have had in a while. After all, it’s not every day a player with Byfuglien’s unparalleled potential to impact a game is up for a new contract, and to hear him say he wants to return is a relief.
Now, of course, Kevin Cheveldayoff has work to do. The Jets GM has been mostly inactive this season after last year’s flurry of action in February, though it’s worth noting that it wasn’t until that fateful morning in February last year, February 11th to be exact, that Chevy first got active on the trade front. In other words there’s still time for Chevy to get active this year, and I expect he’ll have to be with Andrew Ladd in limbo as of now.
Ladd, however, is not Cheveldayoff’s biggest problem right now. Dustin Byfuglien, his star defenseman, his leading goal scorer, perhaps his best player, is up for free agency at year’s end, and he cannot allow Big Buff to walk for nothing as Michael Frolik did. There are, however, some good signs on that front.
Dustin Byfuglien after the game came out and said he wants to resign in wpg. Calls it home. #Byfuglien
— Shawn Churchill (@ShawnChurchill) February 3, 2016
Now, as most hockey fans already know, when Bob McKenzie says something NHL-related, it’s as good as gospel. The man could run for Prime Minister right now and, even allowing for the fact that we in Canada aren’t currently in an election, would still be in control of the country by tomorrow afternoon. If McKenzie is right (you may be assured McKenzie is right) it means the Jets and Byfuglien’s camp are talking, and that’s a good sign for Jets fans.
A Unique Asset
While both Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien are valuable members of the Jets, there’s no doubt which one the team needs more and is more actively trying to re-sign. Ladd has been a great leader for the Jets, a perfect ambassador for the city and a true hockey player’s hockey player. What he hasn’t been is unique. There are other players like Ladd, albeit highly valued ones. There are no players like Byfuglien.
Jets reportedly break off contract talks with Andrew Ladd, shift focus to Dustin Byfuglien. https://t.co/Lf9hcihUur pic.twitter.com/y1CXbbhTHN
— theScore (@theScore) January 25, 2016
Very early in my THW career I wrote a piece entitled “Trading Dustin Byfuglien” not intended to advocate a trade, but to show the need for careful deliberation if in fact it was decided he should be moved. Looking back on that long-ago article, nothing I said about Byfuglien has changed. He is unique. No player combines fluid stride, powerful shot, intimidating size, and punishing physicality the way he does.
The Jets don’t have a player on their roster who combines finesse and nastiness the way Big Buff does. The Jets shouldn’t feel bad about this. Nobody does. Dustin Byfuglien is a unique asset, and should be treated (and paid) as such.
While some would argue the Jets need to cut bait on Byfuglien before being saddled with a massive contract, most of them are at a loss for how the Jets could replace his presence. Jacob Trouba is still young and in many ways immature, Toby Enstrom is winding down and has been the subject of other trade theories and Tyler Myers cannot play 40 minutes a night. What’s more, the Jets have very few NHL-ready defensive prospects. The hole Byfuglien would leave in the Winnipeg Jets could not be filled in the short term, perhaps not even long term.
Financially, yes, the deal is almost certain to hurt the Jets in five years. Byfuglien will be asking for $7,000,000 or more, which on the open market he would certainly get. If, however, the Jets won’t spend money on Byfuglien, who would they ever spend it on? At some point you need to dole out some cash to win in today’s NHL.
He’s Got Their Backs
Dustin Byfuglien is a quiet sort of leader, the kind who leads by example when he’s at his best and helps keep the team as tight-knit as they’ve famously become. He’s also the kind of player to keep an eye on the kids. For Nikolaj Ehlers, and Kyle Connor in the future, playing as youngsters in the NHL, what would give them more confidence than knowing Byfuglien was looking over their shoulders and watching their backs?
Byfuglien may never win the Norris Trophy. He may never win the Conn Smythe, or even another Stanley Cup. That doesn’t mean he’s a player the Jets can afford to lose. This has been a transitional year for the Jets, and next year could be even more so. In times of change, the organization needs a steady rock, preferably several. Blake Wheeler has proven he can be one. Give Dustin Byfuglien a chance to be the other. The team needs to re-sign Big Buff, and if the alternative is letting him go I’m perfectly okay with Chevy dolling out $7,000,000 for the next five or six years to do it.