Dustin Byfuglien and the Trade Market
Dustin Byfuglien is probably the most polarizing member of the Winnipeg Jets. Talk to three people any day of the week and you are likely to receive three different opinions on what the Jets should do with Dustin Byfuglien.
Byfuglien is a talented player—no one really debates that. He can shoot, he can pass and he can play a versatile game. Few players in the NHL are able to play both forward and defense and have a significant impact on the game while employed at both positions.
Dustin Byfuglien played first line right wing on the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. He then played defense on the Atlanta Thrashers well enough to earn an All Star nomination.
The issues with Byfuglien are well known. He is lazy defensively, generally cannot keep his weight under control and is difficult to coach.
With Jacob Trouba on the horizon, the Jets organization has options on its hands; with options comes decisions.
Options for Jets
Before we examine the different options that exist for the Jets organization, let’s establish Byfuglien’s contractual terms:
The Minnesota native will be a free agent at 31 years old. His cap hit for the upcoming three seasons is actually lower than his actual salary—as the deal was slightly back-loaded by the general manager who penned the deal, Rick Dudley.
1. Play Dustin Byfuglien at Forward
The Jets recently experimented with the idea of moving Byfuglien to forward, specifically, on the right side with Andrew Ladd on the left side and Bryan Little in the middle.
Byfuglien looked out of place, but the experiment lasted a mere three periods or so, and that is not a long enough period of time to make an absolute decision in this regard. Having said that, it is probably fair to say that regardless of the duration of the experiment, if the defenseman many call “Big Buff” is, in fact, this “big” on an ongoing basis, then he will not be able to shoulder the skating responsibility associated with played forward in the National Hockey League (NHL).
Assuming he is in relatively good shape, or even average shape, Byfuglien does fill a glaring need for the organization. When playing forward he plays right wing and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has gone on the record as saying his team is seeking a top-6 right-winger.
Byfuglien could conceivably satisfy that right-wing need. Even if his contract could be above and beyond what his production would warrant, the decision regarding Byfuglien as a right-wing, cannot be made in a vacuum and this option is certainly one to be taken seriously.
If the Jets do not move Byfuglien to forward then they have to address the organization’s right wing need via free agency or trade, as there does not appear to be a player in the system that fits this need (maybe Bryan Little, but that would be contingent on many other factors).
Finally, we would be remiss without pointing out that Byfuglien does not really enjoy playing forward. Psyche is a factor in any player’s production, so this ought to be taken into account.
2. Play Dustin Byfuglien at Defense
Playing the back-end is Byfuglien’s preference—he has indicated this on a countless number of occasions. His skill-set on the back-end is unique. He is big, can skate, can pass, can shoot and can hit. The quality of his hockey sense is undeniable, but his willingness to utilize that sense in his own zone is more than questionable.
It truly is that inability, or unwillingness, to apply himself in his own zone that is holding Byfuglien back from being a top-ten NHL defenseman. This is what makes him so maddening. The tools are there; no one really questions that. What people question, rightfully so, is whether Byfuglien will ever take that next step.
Keeping Byfuglien on defense is probably the safest option, in the sense that with Byfuglien on the blue line they know, more or less, what to expect. Kevin Cheveldayoff can expect offensive production at even strength and on the power play, with defensive decisions that would keep Ken Hitchcock up for a month straight without sleep.
3. Trade Dustin Byfuglien
First, let’s note that Dustin Byfuglien has a no-trade clause that came into effect this season, and allows him to provide the Jets with a five-team no-trade list. This clause would likely not be a deterrent for the Jets, as that leaves the organization with 24 other teams with which they can make a deal.
The Jets have the following defensemen in the system right now:
Of the above, Hainsey, Clitsome and Meech are pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Bogosian, Redmond, Postma and Kulda are restricted free agents (RFAs). Enstrom, Stuart and Trouba are the only defensemen (aside from Byfuglien) currently under contract next season with the Winnipeg Jets.
If the Jets do not trade Byfuglien, this what the team looks like on the back-end next season:
Byfuglien and Bogosian are interchangeable in terms of first and second pairing. Trouba is listed as part of the third pairing because all accounts have him debuting in the NHL next season and he is a right-side defender.
On the left side, Enstrom’s next contract kicks in beginning in the 2013-14 season and he is undoubtedly the team’s best left-side defender. Mark Stuart is a bottom pairing defenseman, leaving a hole in the top-four.
Filling the void on the left side of the defense with any of the aforementioned defenders may occur, but is probably not the Jets’ foremost option.
If the Jets trade Byfuglien, the team creates another hole on the back-end where one already exists (assuming they do not receive a top defender in return).
Nonetheless, the purpose of this article is to examine what precisely Byfuglien could net the Jets in a trade this off-season.
Defensemen with similar production that have been traded
What other defensemen in the NHL can produce offensively like Dustin Byfuglien? More specifically, which NHL defensemen have produced offensively like Byfuglien, and have been traded in the past four seasons?
Since he has been playing full-time defense for the past three seasons, let’s use that period of time as our base in terms of comparing statistics. More precisely, let’s examine the three seasons prior to the one in which these comparable players were traded.
Four players who are offensively slanted in terms of their overall value, and who have also been traded within the past few years are:
1. Brent Burns
2. Jack Johnson
3. Dion Phaneuf
4. Alex Goligoski
Here are Byfuglien’s numbers:
The ages at which each of the above defensemen were traded:
Dustin Byfuglien, at 28 years old, is slightly older than the comparable defensemen were when traded. Defensemen, however, peek later in their careers according to many, and with his contract expiring at age 31, there is not much long-term risk associated with acquiring Byfuglien.
Trading Burns, Johnson, Phaneuf and Goligowski, garnered the following in return for their former teams:
A couple of teams have been rumoured to have interest in Byfuglien such as Detroit and Philadelphia.
Using the above trades in comparison, (and the Phaneuf trade more as an anomaly), there are two different types of trades the Jets could conceivably make:
1. Quality player for quality player; or
2. Quality player for younger players and draft picks.
The Flyers are limited in terms of prospects, so a trade with the Flyers would likely be quality player for quality player.
Something along the lines of:
Both of those players would fill a need on the Jets’ right side, but both players have also become integral parts of the Flyers team. Then again, just how badly do the Flyers need defensemen?
(Keep in mind that the top unrestricted free agent defensemen this off-season, are the likes of Mark Streit and Sergei Gonchar.)
Detroit Red Wings:
The Red Wings, on the other hand, have more depth in the prospect system than Philadelphia. A trade similar to the one for Brent Burns would likely be more applicable in this circumstance.
Something along the lines of:
These are not specific trade possibilities created to bring upon rumours; rather, they are just presented as a guideline for the different types of trades that may be available to the Jets if they decide to explore the trade market for Byfuglien.
Overall the Jets are in a position of strength with Dustin Byfuglien. The organization does not have to trade him, but with his versatility and the expected emergence of Jacob Trouba, Kevin Cheveldayoff could conceivably utilize the asset of Dustin Byfuglien to fill an immediate need (the Philadelphia example)—or fill a couple of needs with an eye on the future (the Detroit example).
What he will do is anyone’s guess, but his action or potential inaction should provide Jets fans with a better idea of his overall vision for the franchise.