Dustin Byfuglien might be a defenseman for Atlanta this season

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dustinbyfuglien1.jpgWhen the Atlanta Thrashers acquired Dustin Byfuglien from the Chicago Blackhawks to help bail the Blackhawks out of salary cap hell beef up their forward unit, it was viewed as a savvy move from Thrashers GM Rick Dudley. After all, a young team looking to rebuild sort of from the ground up after trading away Ilya Kovalchuk, getting a physical force to work the front of the net can help set the tone of games. It sure worked for the Blackhawks propelling them to win the Stanley Cup.

In what might turn out to be one of the most surprising moves of the off-season, it turns out that Dustin Byfuglien might turn out to be less of a power forward and more of an offensive defenseman, a move that GM Rick Dudley is more than ready to make as Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution finds out in a Q&A session with Dudley.

Q. It appears the defense is close to being set with several players, like Arturs Kulda, competing for final spot. Would that be a fair statement?

A. I think Kulda has a chance to challenge for regular duty – as do some other people. A lot of it depends on what we do with Dustin [Byfuglien]. If we decide to play him at defense, it’s a much more difficult defense to make. If we decide to play him at forward, there is some room. A lot of that will depend on the people. If we have a guy that looks pretty good – like I look at [Alexey] Zubarev, he’s a pretty talented guy; same thing with Kulda and Freddy Meyers is a guy that’s proven can play in the NHL. All those guys have a chance to play regularly. They just have to show it. If we made a decision that we didn’t need to play Byfuglien at defense, that would be a reason why.

Q. So you are saying that it’s a real possibility that Byfuglien will switch to defense?

A. It’s a position that he likes to play. It’s a position that I thought he was well on his way to being a top, top defenseman in Chicago. We moved him to forward because we had no size up front. Obviously, he proved to be a very effective forward but that doesn’t mean he’s not an effective defenseman. Ultimately, if [coach] Craig [Ramsay] says he doesn’t want to play him at defense, it’s unlikely he’ll play on defense. Truthfully, I want to see [him switch]. He can score. He can score 15 goals as a defenseman. He’s got one of the hardest shots in the game.

If you’re thinking this is a crazy thing for the Thrashers to be doing… It might be, but not for the reasons you’re thinking. Byfuglien came up through the Chicago system as a defenseman. I even witnessed such a game myself while he was a member of the Norfolk Admirals. He even played a handful of games as a defenseman for the Blackhawks last season.

While most will know Byfuglien for his net presence and ability to score up front, he does indeed have a big shot. At his size (6’4′ 250 pounds) he’d make for a menacing defenseman but is that where his skills are best suited? Considering his goal totals as a forward the last three seasons for the Blackhawks have been 19,15 and 17 is getting that sort of production from the blueline is a lot more difficult.

Moving Byfuglien to defense also tweaks the Thrashers forward depth and puts the pressure on their youth to step it up in training camp. Kids like 2010 first round pick Alexander Burmistrov or Angelo Esposito could have a big opportunity to make the NHL roster for the first time. To say the least, things are going to be exciting in Atlanta one way or the other.

The Buzzer: Bob blanks Rangers; Sabres drop fourth straight

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Player of the Night: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bob made 36 saves and recorded his 21st career shutout in helping the Blue Jackets to a 2-0 win over the New York Rangers. The win was the Blue Jackets’ third in a row while New York was blanked for the first time this season.

Highlight of the Night: Bob was on his game:

MISC:

• Despite the loss, Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding for the Rangers in stopping 40 shots.

Artemi Panarin’s power play goal in the third period put the game out of reach:

• New York has dropped two in a row since their six-game winning streak.

Tomas Tatar snapped a 1-1 tie midway through the third period and Dylan Larkin added the insurance tally as the Detroit Red Wings beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1.

• The Sabres, who have now lost four straight, had their chances, but Jimmy Howard stopped 19 of 20 shots and was thankful for one of his posts:

Factoid of the Night:

Scores:
Columbus 2, New York Rangers 0
Detroit 3, Buffalo 1

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Matthew Tkachuk reportedly suspended one game for inciting line brawl

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The Detroit Red Wings felt like the punishment didn’t fit the crime as Luke Witkowski received an automatic 10-game suspension for returning to the ice during that line brawl with the Calgary Flames. How will they feel about Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk reportedly receiving a one-game suspension for his “crime,” then?

Please note that this news was broken by TSN, while it hasn’t been confirmed by the NHL yet, so the explanation video is also not available.

As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, Tkachuk had a lot to do with the brawl, as Witkowski returned to the ice because of his actions. You can also see the moment here:

This marks the second time Tkachuk’s been suspended by the NHL, as he sat two games for this hit on Drew Doughty, which ultimately served as the first chapter in his hate-fest with the Los Angeles Kings:

It’s fitting with such an agitating figure like Tkachuk that the decision stands as polarizing. Some are stunned that the NHL would tack on a one-game suspension after he was ejected for his actions during the 8-2 win for the Red Wings:

Others believe that Tkachuk had it coming.

It wouldn’t be surprising if, meanwhile, the Red Wings believe that it wasn’t nearly sufficient. After the game, Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson reports that Tkachuk said that Witkowski was looking for an excuse to return and that he just gave him “a poke.”

Apparently, this time, Tkachuk also poked the bear and will have to sit one game in timeout as punishment.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL GMs pleased so far with crack down on slashing

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MONTREAL (AP) — If there are any misgivings about the NHL’s crackdown on slashes to the hands, they are not shared by the general managers.

Teams are scoring about half a goal more since officials made the quick tap to the hands or the top of the stick the NHL’s most frequently called minor penalty. The rule was aimed not only at protecting players after some gruesome hand injuries last season, but also to eliminate it as a tactic to cause skilled players to lose control of the puck.

”It’s still a work in progress but in general I think the standard has been very positive,” the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steve Yzerman said after a three-hour meeting of the league’s 31 GMs.

The meeting was held at the former Windsor Hotel, where the NHL was founded in November, 1917. It was one of several events this weekend to mark the league’s centennial.

There were no major decisions made. The GMs and league officials discussed issues in the game like goaltender interference reviews, offside challenges and the crackdown on faceoff violations.

The talks helped set the agenda for a more in-depth, three-day meeting in March, where rule change proposals are usually made.

The slashing crackdown has seen a parade to the penalty box, but the calls look to be here to stay.

”I think people are a little frustrated when you’re getting those penalties and power plays against, but hopefully it smooths out and everybody adjusts to it,” Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. ”I think that’s what everybody is anticipating.

”It’s frustrating going through the process, but hopefully we get to the point where it’s effective and it’s not being done anymore and there are not as many calls.”

Former enforcer George Parros, the new director of player safety, made his first presentation at a GMs meeting and much of it dealt with slashing. He is mainly concerned with violent incidents, like the ugly finger injury suffered by defenseman Marc Methot last season and Johnny Gaudreau‘s hand injury. He said the more common ”love taps” can be handled by the officials on the ice.

”I focused on slashes that are done intentionally, behind the play, and landing on the hands-fingertips area,” Parros said. ”It’s a new standard. Everyone’s getting used to it. If it’s behind the play and it’s intentional and there’s some force to it, then it’s a warning. The variable is force.”

Overall, Parros likes what he’s seen on the ice.

”I gave them an update on numbers and stuff from last year and in general, the trends have been downward,” he said. ”We’ve got less suspensions, less injuries, all things like that. ”The game is being played in a great fashion right now and we hope to continue to do that.”

Colin Campbell, the league’s director of hockey operations, said the rise in scoring may spring from more than just a slashing crackdown.

”I think it’s a reflection of younger players in the league,” he said. ”We’re down to an average of 23 and 24 being our biggest segment of players. I think our players in rush reads and down-low coverage are faster and more talented, but older players are more defensive and have more patience. Younger players make more mistakes, but is there anything wrong with that? We always say if you want more goals you need bad goalies and more mistakes.”

Offside challenges is a contentious issue. When brought in last season, there were complaints that coaches were using them too often and were slowing down the games. This season, if a challenge fails, a minor penalty is called. That has cut down challenges dramatically.

But Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said: ”I think the sentiment is generally positive on putting that minor penalty in and reducing the number of challenges.”

Goaltender interference challenges also were discussed, but pinning down a consistent standard in judging whether a player has interfered with or been pushed into a goalie is elusive.

They were also to discuss making penalties called in overtime last only one minute instead of two to boost 3-on-3 time.

One thing there appeared to be no talk of was trades.

”You never see any of that here. There’s not enough time,” Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello said.

Golden Knights can’t contain excitement in getting a healthy goalie back

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Everyone, you can downgrade the Vegas Golden Knights’ goalie situation from “absurd” to … I don’t know, tenuous?

Eh, we can fuss over the right way to describe the situation any time. For now, the Golden Knights are delighted that Malcolm Subban has been activated from IR, as mentioned on their official website, and boy was it mentioned on Twitter.

The fawning borders on “Your friend who’s fallen into puppy love and is totally overwhelmed, making it both adorable and kind of annoying.”

Aw.

Sheesh, we get i–

*rolls eyes*

At least it all started with this helpful update on who’s healthy and who’s not:

Meanwhile, Dylan Ferguson returns to the WHL.

OK, so let’s take a look at how that big group did so far, remembering that the Golden Knights are still keeping it going with a fairly astounding 11-6-1 record.

Marc-Andre Fleury: 3-1-0, .925 save percentage, suffered what might have been a concussion.

Maxime Lagace: 3-5-1, .864 save percentage, didn’t fall apart altogether despite being wildly inexperienced for the task at hand.

Oscar Dansk: 3-0-0, .946 save percentage. When he got hurt, things went from ridiculous to absurd.

Subban: 2-0-0, .936 save percentage. He’s back, did you hear?

Ferguson: One goal allowed, one save in 9:14 of play.

*takes a breath*

So, yeah. that’s quite the run of netminders. Subban was playing remarkably well before he was injured, and it’s worth remembering that the Golden Knights essentially chose him over Calvin Pickard. Time will tell if that’s the right decision for the franchise, but right now, they’re clearly over the moon just to have a more NHL-appropriate goalie available again.

Sometimes it’s about the simplest things in life, eh?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.