The 2018-19 season was not a great one for the Winnipeg Jets. Sure they finished second in the Central Division with 99 points, but after what they accomplished in 2017-18, something did not seem right this time around. In this series, we will take a look at some key Jets’ players who may or may not have been part of the problem in their up and down 2018-19 campaign.
Dustin Byfuglien had a really strong start to the 2018-19 season before getting injured in late December. He would miss all of January before returning in February and getting injured once again. This time Byfuglien missed half of February and all but one game at the end of March – tough sledding for a guy who put 29 points in his first 32 games.
His point production slowed down after the injury trouble started, in the 10 games he played after recurring injuries, he only mustered up two assists. That is to be expected after missing nearly half of the regular season, but the 34-year-old still managed to get at least 30 points for the sixth consecutive season despite the setbacks. He was also a key piece to the team’s fourth-ranked power play; teams didn’t quite respect Jacob Trouba’s point-shot like they did Byfuglien’s. I noticed a lot of teams would cheat towards Patrik Laine when Trouba was on the power play, they didn’t do that for Byfuglien, thus opening up more opportunities for Laine.
Byfuglien has always been great in the playoffs throughout his career. He is able to flip that switch and bring a whole new level of intensity when the games really start to mean something. For a guy coming off the injured list and having a slow final few weeks of the season, he was sure able to ramp things up quickly versus the St. Louis Blues. He was a force on the backend, he played more physical like he usually does once the playoffs roll around, and he racked up eight points in the six games.
Byfuglien also ate up a lot of minutes over the course of the series. He averaged over 25 minutes per game and finished with a plus-four rating. These numbers are also on par with his regular season, which saw him average just shy of 25 minutes of ice time per game and finish with a plus-four rating through 42 games.
Having those guys that can elevate their game come playoff time is so important for a team making a long run for the Stanley Cup. A lot of people call Byfuglien out for his lack of effort during the regular season, but when the playoffs roll around there is no question he brings his best every game. Over the last two seasons, he has put up 24 points in 23 playoff games, racked up 76 hits, blocked 38 shots, and registered a plus-six rating. He will have to keep those numbers up for the Jets to have any hopes of making another playoff run this coming season.
Can Byfuglien Stay Healthy?
Injury concerns are starting to become a regular thing for Byfuglien over the last two seasons. He missed 13 games in 2017-18 and 40 games last season. With the number of minutes he logs on a consistent basis and his age starting to get up there, is there reason to believe injuries will become a common thing for the big defender? Obviously, injuries are unpredictable and anything can happen throughout an 82-game season – but I know one thing – Byfuglien needs to stay healthy for Jets to have some stability on the backend this upcoming season. Losing three veterans in Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot means a lot more responsibility and reliability on the shoulders of Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey.
Byfuglien and Morrissey missed a combined 63 games due to injury last season. It is quite scary to picture the Jets’ defensive group if something like that were to happen again this season. The group would be very young and inexperienced without those two, so let’s hope they can both stay healthy and have career years with the Jets for the sake of the team and their success.
Regardless of Byfuglien missing half the season, he still performed extremely well while he was healthy. Had he played a full 82-game season I think we could have witnessed a new career-high for points (current career-high is 56 in the 2013-14 season). With the amount of time he plays per game and his ability to play on both the power play and penalty kill, there is no reason not to believe his best season is still ahead of him. The assistant captain can absolutely dominate when he wants to.
Paul Maurice will have some interesting choices this upcoming season. Do the Jets go top-heavy with Morrissey and Byfuglien on the top-pairing? Or do they keep Byfuglien in his second-pairing spot? My thoughts are to keep them separate to spread the minutes out more. Having both those guys log big minutes on separate shifts will give fans a little more comfort than having two unproven pairings below them if you were to put the two veterans together.
If Byfuglien stays healthy I think we may see his best season as a Jet in 2019-20. I am going out on a limb and predicting he plays all 82 games while breaking the 60-point mark for the first time in his career. I also firmly believe he would have accomplished this last season had he stayed healthy.