The Winnipeg Jets have some really high-end defensemen. The leader of that group, however, might be giving them an issue.
He’s, by all accounts, a great teammate and a leader in the locker room. Big Buff didn’t get an A just for longevity, although he’s been around since the Atlanta Thrasher days.
I wrote about the potential decline of Byfuglien at around this time last season, and then he proceeded to be one of the team’s best players in the postseason, erasing any thought that he was on the downside.
But here we are again, worrying about Dustin Byfuglien. I’m not as concerned about his skills eroding as I am about the injuries mounting. Hockey is a physically demanding game, and Big Buff plays a really physical style that doesn’t exactly scream “career longevity”.
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And that brings us to now. Byfuglien is still a very productive player, no doubt, as he’s put up 30 points (four goals) in 37 contests, including 16 of those on the man-advantage.
But therein lies the problem, he’s only played in 37 of a possible 68 games this season. Also, it’s not as if his return is imminent, he’ll probably be back around the end of the month.
Conveniently, that’s right before the playoffs. If he can miss a stretch of games, come back before the tournament and play as well as he did in the interim, the Jets will probably be just fine with that arrangement.
Big Buff has two years left with a $7.6MM cap hit, so it’s not like he’s cheap. Getting nothing out of that production could be disastrous for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations and limited cap room.
Last season, he only missed 13 games. This year, it’ll most likely be about half the season. His absence (along with that of Josh Morrissey‘s) is one of the biggest reasons for the Jets struggles.
Byfuglien excels in his own end and also is a good player at moving the puck out of the zone, you know, a few of the issues the team has dealt with.
They could really benefit from him. And he’s gone down for two huge chunks. Buff’s only played five games since December 29, recording one assist. He went down again on Valentine’s Day and now we’re waiting for any updates on his ankle injury.
The best predictor of future injury is past injury, and the normally sturdy Byfuglien has now had two consecutive seasons where we’re seeing him miss time.
When it happened at age 28-29, nobody really made too much of it. But now, the big man is in his age 33 season. Father time is undefeated, as they say, and it may be coming for our favorite enforcer.
I hope I’m wrong again. I know he can still be exceptionally productive when he’s healthy. I’m just concerned that those strings of healthy play from Byfuglien are fading. I hate writing about the potential back nine of his career.
Big Buff’s one of my favorite all time players, a great leader for the mostly-young Jets and a hell of a force to be reckoned with, and I’ll miss watching him play when he retires. I just hope it’s closer to 2030 than 2020.