2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Byfuglien vs. Pronger the battle to watch

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Buff.jpgOne of the biggest (literally) reasons for the Blackhawks’ success
against the Canucks and the Sharks was forward/defenseman/forward Dustin
Byfuglien. The large and seemingly unmovable Byfuglien has scored eight
goals in the postseason, including one in each of the past five games.
In the Hawks’ four-game sweep of the Sharks, he had the game-winning
goal in three of the four games.

Nearly all of his goals were
scoring from directly in front of the net, as the opposing team seemed
helpless in keeping Byfuglien away from the crease. It didn’t help that a
couple of times the Sharks and Canucks inexplicable forgot about him,
yet no matter what either team tried to do he was still able to make one
heck of an impact in crashing the net.

With Michael Leighton in
net, riding one heck of a performance against the Canadiens and likely
extremely confident, you can guarantee the Blackhawks will continue
their net-crashing ways.

Only this time, the Flyers have a weapon
the likes of which Byfuglien and the Blackhawks have yet to face: Chris
Pronger.

There are many matchups in the Cup finals that are
intriguing, but none will get as much focus or be as important to each
team’s success than the battle between Dustin Byfuglien and Chris
Pronger in front of the net. Byfuglien hasn’t battled a big defenseman
like Pronger, yet Pronger hasn’t had to try and clear out what is
essentially a skilled defenseman from directly in front of the net.

Unfortunately,
Pronger may be at a disadvantage. What would have worked 10-15 years
ago in the NHL won’t fly today. NBC’s Mike Milbury, speaking during a
conference call today, explains:

“I wish it were in 1975 so I
could really watch this matchup; because
the way the rules are now, if Byfuglien goes to the front of the net,
Pronger can’t touch him. He can have action when the puck’s around the
crease, but if Byfuglien wants to go to the front of the net, all he has
to do is stand there.

“I think it’s going to be interesting to
see if Pronger can do anything
against Byfuglien, because the way the rules are you can’t touch the
damn guy anymore.”

Milbury has long been outspoken about the
current rules prohibiting physical play, and in this case he’s dead on
about how Pronger will struggle to stay out of the penalty box when
Byfuglien starts to take up residence down low. You also know that the
Hawks will take advantage of this matchup, in the hopes that Pronger
does something stupid and suddenly the Flyers are without their best
defenseman.

Knowing Pronger, there’s a good chance this will
happen at some point.

The Blackhawks and Byfuglien have become
masterful and causing trouble in front of the goaltender and the net,
knowing exactly what to do and to say to get the opposing team off their
game. Scoring goals down low, with Byfuglien let loose outside the
crease, is sure to be the first way to anger the Flyers.

Pronger
has shown in the past that he does know how to clear out the front of
the net without playing dumb, using his frame to box out the forwards
around the net and give his goaltender a clear view of the shooting
lanes.

It’s going to be two of the bigger players on the ice
going at one another, with one of them at a disadvantage. It’s the wily
veteran, the defenseman brought in to give the Flyers this exact edge,
against the hot young forward who has suddenly become the hero for the
Blackhawks.

Eaves to stick with Benn, Seguin on Dallas’ top line

Patrick Eaves, Jonas Hiller
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Patrick Eaves‘ cameo alongside the dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin looks like it’ll continue at least one more game.

Eaves, who along with Benn assisted on Seguin’s goal in Saturday’s loss to Chicago, practiced on Dallas’ top line today and should be there tomorrow when the Stars take on the Wild.

“Seguin, Benn and Eaves were in on 11 chances [Saturday against Chicago],” head coach Lindy Ruff explained, per the Stars’ website. They could have three or four [goals]. They should have had three or four. We missed too many good opportunities.”

This latest development is a positive in what’s been a tough year for Eaves. He was hurt early in the season after an awkward fall against the Oilers — a game in which he opened on the club’s top line, next to Benn and Seguin.

All told, he has just three goals and six points in 33 games.

Last year, Eaves was plagued with concussion issues but still managed to produce well, scoring 14 goals and 27 points in just 47 games.

After re-upping in Winnipeg, Byfuglien says leaving ‘never really crossed my mind’

Winnipeg Jets v Anaheim Ducks - Game Two
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There was some speculation Dustin Byfuglien would be out of Winnipeg by the Feb. 29 trade deadline or, failing that, when free agency hit on July 1.

But according to him, leaving was never really an option.

“I’ve been here five years and from where we’ve started and where we’re at now, I don’t feel as an organization or a group that we’re far off,” Byfuglien told TSN 1290 on Monday, after inking a big five-year, $38 million extension with the Jets. “My family and I have found Winnipeg nice, and we’re very happy to stay here.

“It never really crossed my mind of going anywhere, and I’m excited to be a Jet.”

Prior to this extension, though, some thought leaving had definitely crossed Byfuglien’s mind.

Back in mid-December, the Free Press reported his initial ask was a whopping eight-year, $55 million deal. Some viewed that as his first potential step out the door.

It would’ve been big money and a lot of term for the Jets to commit, especially given 1) Byfuglien is 30, 2) the team still hasn’t signed captain Andrew Ladd, and 3) the club has some prized youngsters that need new deals this summer, specifically Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. (In that same Free Press report, Trouba’s ask was $56 million over eight years.)

Then, there was Byfuglien at All-Star weekend.

When asked about his future — sign, trade or head to free agency? — Byfuglien said he had “no problem” with Winnipeg, adding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.”

Some, like TSN’s Frank Seravalli, who was in attendance for the Byfuglien media scrum, noted the response “did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement.”

Of course, Byfuglien later clarified his remarks following the All-Star Game.

“Yeah, I’d love to,” he told reporters when asked about re-signing in Winnipeg. “I’ve met a lot of good people and now some really good friends. I’ve been here for a long time. You never want to leave home. I’ve been here long enough; my family has been here and I’ve had two kids here.

“It’s somewhere you don’t want to leave.”

And now — well, for the next five years anyway — Byfuglien won’t have to.

Video: Jets’ Stafford suspended one game for ‘forceful, reckless’ high-stick

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The NHL has dinged Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford one game for his ugly high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden over the weekend.

“While we accept Stafford’s assertion that he did not intentionally strike Holden in the face, he is responsible for the consequences of swinging his stick in such a forceful and reckless fashion,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Stafford, who wasn’t penalized on the play, will now miss Winnipeg’s next game — tonight, in St. Louis — and will be eligible to return on Thursday when the Jets host the Bruins.

Stafford will also forfeit $23,387.10 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Big Buff, Big Bucks: Jets ink Byfuglien to five-year, $38 million extension

Dustin Byfuglien
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One of the most prized trade deadline targets is no longer.

On Monday, Winnipeg locked in pending UFA d-man Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $38 million extension, one that carries a $7.6M cap hit and makes him the highest-paid player on the team.

Byfuglien, 30, was in the last of a five-year, $26 million deal with a $5.2M average annual cap hit. One of the league’s most unique players — a 6-foot-5, 265 pounder that’s played forward and defense, and participated in this year’s fastest skater All-Star skills competition — his bio from the Jets’ release pretty much sums up how much he means to the club:

[Byfuglien] has recorded 32 points (15G, 17A) so far this season while appearing in all 52 games and sits in a tie for second amongst all NHL defencemen with his 15 goals.

Byfuglien leads the Jets so far this season in shots (163), penalty minutes (78) and ice time (24:14 per game).

The native of Roseau, MN, was named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, TN where he recorded a goal and an assist for the Central Division team.

Byfuglien has been named to the All-Star Game in each of the last four seasons that the game has taken place (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016).

The deal keeps Byfuglien in Winnipeg through 2022 and is the latest long-term deal on the blueline: Tobias Enstrom is at $5.75M per through 2018, and Tyler Myers is at $5.5M per through ’19. Byfuglien’s deal also comes after some questioned how badly he wanted to stay in Winnipeg — at All-Star weekend, he raised eyebrows by responding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you,” when asked about his playing future.

The five-year term is also down from Byfuglien’s reported original ask, which was $55 million over eight years.

With this move done, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can now turn his attention to another prized pending UFA: Andrew Ladd, the club’s captain and another player that’s believed to have high interest around the league as a trade deadline rental.