With the NHL Trade Deadline not that far away and the Winnipeg Jets in the midst of a playoff race out west, one can't help but wonder what general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff might have up is sleeve. One thing seems very clear, the chances of Dustin Byfuglien being part of any sort of move would appear to be almost non-existent.
Edmonton - January 29, 2015 - There is still some distance to the March 5th trade deadline but chatter is starting to build when it comes to the Winnipeg Jets.
The most commonly mentioned names in rumors that have been floated in recent years have included Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien.
For Kane, the trade talk will likely continue, but for Byfuglien, any trade talk will be replaced by crickets . . . or will it?
For the Jets immediate future, big Buff likely has earned a no trade status. He is a proven playoff performer having paced the Chicago Blackhawks in their successful playoff run in 2010 (11G, 5A), and with Winnipeg likely headed to the post-season for the first time since 1996, they could surely use him. In the playoffs, size matters, as well as the ability to score opportunistic goals in the blue paint.
Byfuglien excels at both and is actually one of the best in NHL…a modern day Tim Kerr if you will. So, on the surface he will likely provide a big boost for a historic playoff appearance with the new Winnipeg Jets. Unfortunately, there is also the big picture to consider.
What makes things a little more interesting is that beyond this season, Byfuglien will become much more of a question mark…with pending unrestricted free agency looming in the summer of 2016. Some pundits in the Winnipeg media have suggested this spring may be the time for the organization to seriously consider shopping him and it is easy to see why.
The argument is, the Jets have too many D-men on the roster (as well as prospects pushing), and the chances of there being a potential contract issue are likely quite real. The implication is Byfuglien may be too difficult to sign, so he should be traded while his value is at an all-time high.
Even with his pending UFA status, there is no way he should be moved before all efforts to re-sign have been completely exhausted and to this point we have seen no evidence of the two sides having even had serious talks. Alternatively, Byfuglien has played some of the best hockey of his carrier this season, and in many ways has become a legitimate MVP candidate.
When Winnipeg’s D-corps started dropping like flies, Buff transitioned back to the blueline and played very well, even showing shades of maturity and leadership. He is not only a big player in stature, but he plays big when the game is on the line. Those are intangibles that most teams hold in high regard but if they were going to seriously consider trading him, would it even be possible for the organization to go out and find a comparable player?
Byfuglien is arguably the best big man in the league. At 265 lbs, the only player that comes close to eclipsing him in a combination of heaviness and skill is Zdeno Chara, and he has had an off-year and is on the downside of his career.
He has shown the ability to lead by example, with his willingness to play forward despite his prefers of playing along the blueline being the best example and doing so without pouting. Also let’s not forget he has shown the capability of being a dominant presence at both positions
From a versatility standpoint, the only comparable that comes to mind would be San Jose’s Brent Burns, and he isn’t as talented as Byfuglien. Apart from that, no one comes close. Well? Maybe John Scott, he plays both forward and D, just joshin’.
So if you tried to trade an apple for an apple, there is really nothing that measures up. There is the potential to scour the league and find more scoring and maybe additional goaltending support, but when you give up the best player in the trade, it is hard to win the deal.
So in my mind, trading Byfuglien is not an option to consider at this time. The free agency concern may be very real but I just don’t see that happening. And why not you ask?
He is not an American who was raised in Buffalo, Detroit, New York City or some other major metropolitan area. Buff spent his formative years in Roseau Minnesota, population 2800, ten minutes from the Canadian border. So western Canada is not foreign to him, it is more or less just like home.
What about quality of life? Would Manitoba appeal to him and his family? Based on his personal interests, I believe so. We all know that Buff likes boating (no shot implied here) but he is a downright fishing fanatic. So much so that he competed in the 2011 Canadian Bass championship. See that, he chose the Canadian Bass championship, not the American one. And there are not many places with more lakes than Manitoba. So I would theorize he is right at home in the friendly province.
But he will want to get paid, and this will present a big challenge for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. He is set to make $6 million in the final year of his deal and will be looking for a nice raise to avoid testing UFA waters, and in light of a career season, what kind of money would we be talking about?
Well, if Dion Phaneuf can make $7M per season and not bring anywhere near as much to the table, could that number be $8M? Perhaps but Chevy would likely never pay it. Byfuglien does have a ton of leverage so his average annual number will need to be in the $7M range with term being the big hurdle. I would predict a contract of 4 - 5 years averaging $7M per year.
Now that may sound like a bit of a hometown discount (depending on what he could get on the open market), but the concept of hometown represents the key to why I think Byfuglien will resign in Winnipeg. He is a family man and signing long-term with the Jets would afford him the opportunity to raise his family in an environment very similar to what he experienced as a kid.
Now when it comes to forecasting potential player movement, most of us would be guilty of letting emotional attachment cloud our judgement. Everyone would like to believe that most players would forego the big dollars because he loves your city so darn much.
Byufglien has already been traded from one championship team because he was deemed to have been too pricey and now that he has played a leading role in taking a non-playoff team to the next level, I think he will want to stay and see it through versus hitting a home run via free agency. But then again, maybe I am being naïve...