Is Dustin Byfuglien A Coach Killer?

Everybody loves Dustin Byfuglien but ???? –

When the Atlanta Thrashers arrived in Winnipeg, I was fairly familiar with their roster and I already knew who I liked and who I didn’t like.  Dustin Byfuglien was a player I didn’t like.

I thought Byfuglien was a pretty good offensive defenceman.  I also thought he wasn’t very good in his own end.  My biggest criticism of Dustin Byfuglien was that I felt his play was reckless and his decision-making was very poor.  

Over the next two-two and a half years my opinion never really wavered much from my original thoughts on “Big Buff” but there were a few intangibles to his game that I started to recognize and admire.  Without getting into specific analytics on Dustin Byfuglien, we all know that he makes his defence partners better and when he is on the ice the Winnipeg Jets generally spend more time in the other team’s end.

Statistically, the Jets didn’t spend a lot of time in their own end while Dustin Byfuglien was on the ice but he’s had some very tough stretches.  It didn’t help that his coach, Claude Noel, was an enabler.  Buff was given free rein to roam (Noel actually called him a stallion) and create as much offence as possible while the rest of the team was expected to play “the right way”.  This is not a recipe for success.         

Don’t get me wrong Big Buff wasn’t a train wreck all the time on the blueline.  He was actually pretty effective but his lapses were becoming more glaring and far too frequent.  It seemed his play suffered the more Claude Noel played him. One thing Dustin Byfuglien has is a big heart.  He wants to win and be a difference maker.  He tried to carry this team on his back all by himself and ultimately “bad Buff” was seen more often than not.  It got so bad that Claude Noel decided to move him up to the forward line.  Buff gave it his best shot and was actually a decent forward but his impact wasn’t as great as when he was playing well as a defenceman.

Claude Noel ultimately lost his job.  His parting gift for incoming coach Paul Maurice was a rumoured letter in which he stated he would be wise to play Dustin Byfuglien as a forward.    

Enter Paul Maurice.  He played Buff as a forward until a couple of injuries on the back-end forced him to put Buff back on the blueline.  Dustin Byfuglien took full advantage of this opportunity and played some of the best hockey of his career. He was borderline “Norris Trophy” good.  Big Buff flourished under Paul Maurice and to the point where I had gone full circle (well maybe semi-circle) on my feelings for him.  He still had the occasional off night but for the most part, his game was tight, he was picking his spots, he was a beast in his own end, and could take over a game like nobody else in the league.  The “good Buff” was seen a lot more frequently that the “bad Buff”.  

It’s 2015-16 and the Winnipeg Jets were looking at two key members of their core in the final years of their contracts.  Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien were going to be UFAs at the end of the season.  The narrative around town was that TNSE could only sign one of them.  It was quite evident from the get-go they chose their captain.  Andrew Ladd’s start to the season was terrible.  He was coming off a tough surgery and he didn’t look like a player the Jets should be locking up long-term.  I thought that ownership and management were off their rockers when they were still concentrating on signing Andrew Ladd.

Think about it.  A team with solid forward prospects was concentrating on re-signing a forward while their prospects on the blueline were very thin.  All the Jets had on the farm was Josh Morrissey and he looked like he was a couple of years away.  At the time, Dustin Byfuglien was the heart and soul of this team. It didn’t make any sense.  Thanks to Kurt Overhardt’s and Kevin Cheveldayoff’s game of chicken and months of failed contract negotiations, the talks broke off. Now, the “afterthought”, Dustin Byfuglien was the new target.  

Dustin Byfuglien was Chevy’s new priority and the Winnipeg Jets signed him to a long-term contract extension.  In my opinion, it was the right move made for the wrong reason.  Dustin Byfuglien should have been the first choice.

Dustin Byfuglien is mobbed by his teammates after the Paul Maurice announces that Big Buff has signed a new contract.

It’s 2016-17 and Dustin Byfuglien, along with his new contract in hand, is starting to look like Claude Noel’s “bad Buff” a lot more than in Paul Maurice’s previous seasons.  He hasn’t been horrible.  Actually, he’s been a little better than average.  BUT, it looks like Maurice has either loosened the reins again or he’s gone “Buff blind” just like Claude Noel.  Certain players have that effect on coaches.  Some call them “coach killers”.  The return just doesn’t match the investment. The trust isn’t earned.  The risk isn’t matching the reward.  You get the picture.

In my opinion, all that’s needed for Dustin Byfuglien is some “tough love”.  Paul Maurice needs to let Buff know in no uncertain terms that he wants the Buff he first put back on the blueline.  Dustin Byfuglien is current leading the entire NHL in ice-time.  Paul Maurice needs to reduce his ice-time and stop treating him like a rented mule.  

I know it’s easier said than done but Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to upgrade their blueline depth so Paul Maurice/Charlie Huddy don’t feel the need to play him twenty-eight minutes a game.  This team can’t keep riding their top four defencemen on all the special teams along with their regular ice-time.

Dustin Byfuglien is a physical beast.  He has great offensive instincts although sometimes misguided.  He has a bit of a chippy side which I like.  I truly believe that the Winnipeg Jets smaller players play six inches taller because of him.

Dustin Byfuglien has his warts but I can live with them.  No player is perfect. Paul Maurice needs to rein him in a bit.  He needs to reduce some of his stressful minutes.  If this happens I believe Dustin Byfuglien can return to being the “good Buff” on a nightly basis.  For me, this is a coaching issue and NOT a player issue. 

There was a time when I couldn’t wait for the Jets to trade him.  Now, I can’t ever see a scenario where this Jets team is without him.  I would much rather have him than not have him.

Is Dustin Byfuglien a coach killer?  No!  It’s actually the exact opposite.  His coaches continue to kill him.

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Mitch Kasprick (861 Posts)

Winnipeg Hockey Talk is your place for opinions and news about the Winnipeg Jets and hockey in Winnipeg and Manitoba including the Brandon Wheat Kings, Manitoba Bisons, Winnipeg Blues and more. Our staff of writers will try and bring you a different look at the NHL through our writing along with our WHT Podcast.


Comments

  1. It seems to me that the Jet’s get a lot of goals scored against them where you see our D-man (usually Buff or Trouba) caught behind the opponents goal as the bad guys are breaking out with a 3 on 2 and one of the 2 is a Jet’s forward… Usually not only resulting in a goal against us, but makes our goalie (who isn’t that great to begin with) look bad/weak/inept!

    Now don’t forget… we didn’t have great expectations at the start of the year and are only hugely disappointed now because we were teased by a good young team that needs time to grow.

    • Mitch Kasprick says:

      if a d-man goes in deep a forward should cover his spot … it’s the oldest system in hockey

      • of course… but if you continually get caught up ice while the opposition is dancing around your covering forward and scoring on you, you might want to re think why you’re standing behind the oppositions net watching.

  2. Todd Leroux says:

    I haven’t had the time to watch much hockey this year, but very recently I have caught a period or two from a variety of games. Apart from questionable goal-tending, which drains the team of confidence and should be subsequently manifest in a very conservative style of play, I have watched a team that doesn’t seem to be well coached. I am not a PM fan, nor have I been … ever, so I really wonder if he is the right person for the job. In fact, I wonder about the entire coaching staff. As I have also often stated, I am usually (actually, almost always) wrong in my ‘hockey take’. Will be surprised if PM and staff get new contracts.

    • Mitch Kasprick says:

      The coaching staff is certainly under the microscope

      • Todd Leroux says:

        Well, conservative style tonight. But, sorry, Hutch sucks. Constantly overplays the puck. Maybe I’m just frustrated after watching them blow a lead and looking for someone to blame.

        I wonder, and maybe a discussion for a podcast, does keeping Pav in the minors have anything to do with the expansion draft? I have no idea. But, I have no other logic option for not bringing up Pav because nobody is going to claim Hutch on waivers – IMO.

        To be honest, I feel watching today’s game was a waste of 3 hours of my life…and I ain’t young.

        Grrr….sigh….grrr…

  3. Greg Polinchuk says:

    Thanks for the excellent article! Well-written and extremely well thought out. I wish I could read more opinion (examination?) pieces like this from other Jets observers.

    Buff reminds me of a couple of guys who played on my beer league team over the years. They were the most skilled guys on our roster, wanting to play defense so they could impact the game via extra ice time. In both cases, we had really bad seasons.

    The main reason was that, as wonderfully skilled as these players were, their free-wheeling offense was always disrupting the play of the other 5 guys on the ice. Forwards didn’t mind covering for the occasional defensive pinch but were really put out of their comfort zone by having to play “defense” over and over again. The defensive partner was always having to be the “defensive” rearguard which was mentally frustrating. Even our goalies constantly half-joked that these offensive roving d-men spent more time at the other net than their own.

    Bad Buff was certainly frustrating enough at his old salary but at $7.6M/year Bad Buff is a sunk cost to a lower salary cap budget. Either he has to start having a major impact at both ends, or as Mitch says maybe he has to play a little less. I lean towards Mitch’s solution and think Maurice should force Buff to accept that he has to trust his teammates to do THEIR jobs on offense, and not try to do too much (bad pinch, mistimed hit attempt, bad penalty out of frustration). I see Buff as an expensive platoon player who should rarely be used late in a game with any kind of close lead. (Chevy should also be searching for a deal for a cheap lockdown specialist d-man with offensive shortcomings to pair with Buff.)

    Last year the NBA Houston Rockets had one of the best alltime players on their roster in Dwight Howard and had a terrible W-L record. This year, without Howard, they claim their much improved playing chemistry has energized their roster as they’ve had a very surprising W-L record to date. I can’t help but wonder if Jets have a Dwight Howard situation with Buff. To me it seems like it will only be a short time until the Jets will be known as the Ehlers/Laine team. Will Buff consent to be the Bourque to their Oates and Neely?

    • Mitch Kasprick says:

      Thanks for reading … I (Mitch) often wonder what other Jets’ players think about Buff seemingly have carte blanche while they are expected to play a certain way? Whether it’s being a parent or at the work place or on a professional sports team you can’t have two sets of rules … right?

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