The year 2016 was, by most measures, pretty kind to Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien.
Most obviously, both high-scoring, oddball defensemen inked contracts that provide them with long-term security. In February 2016, Byfuglien killed trade rumors with a five-year, $38 million extension. Burns went even bigger in November of that same year, landing an eight-year, $64M pact.
Instead, 2016 was a sad moment in a far more esoteric way with Burns and Byfuglien: fantasy hockey leagues no longer gave them the bizarre, not-particularly-functional, but totally awesome dual position designation of D/RW.
Yes, in case you forgot or didn’t pay attention to fantasy then, Byfuglien and Burns could slot in as right-wingers and defensemen not that long ago.
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Now, this designation wasn’t that useful, at least beyond Byfuglien and Burns being stat-category-stuffing monsters. Generally speaking, you probably won’t run into many fantasy situations where you have more defensemen than “D” spots to fill, while not having the same problem at RW.
Granted, it’s plausible, just not a consistent concern.
More than anything else, it was just fun that the two All-Stars could be used in such ways. It’s also a reminder that the two aren’t that far removed from debates about how they should be deployed. Think about this: Brent Burns, eventual Norris Trophy-winner, was quite reasonably depicted as a guy who might have been better suited as a forward.
To an extent, these two might feel like they stepped out of time machines from the future. Hockey is a flowing game where forwards can act as defensemen and vice versa; it’s easy to picture mad science where positions become irrelevant in favor of five skaters with increasingly similar job descriptions.
(OK, maybe that future isn’t too near, but who knows?)
It’s possible that the Jets are concerned about Byfuglien considering his size and style; just recently Tyler Dellow brought up tough questions about Buffy’s defensive work for The Athletic (subscription required). At 32, Burns’ contract could become a hairy problem if the Sharks start to hit the wall with an aging core.
Fantasy owners might argue that both defensemen deserve every penny, even if it’s for past work. Part of that is because they’re both so good and so unusual. Part of that is because some of us frequently smile at the thought of those weird D/RW days.
Speaking of dual positions …
With this being a weekly column, certain bits of advice will evolve over time, while others might be a little more reliable. (The debut column is likely to remain static, as you should always be honest with yourself about how much effort you’re expecting to put into a given league).
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One evolving question: how much of a difference does it make to have a roster heavy on dual position options?
Many of us go into drafts assuming that we’ll load up on LW/RW guys, only to stray in the heat of the moment, when the few difference-making goalies keep drying up (or other concerns). It’s also conceivable that you can trick yourself into taking the wrong guy while being enticed by the siren call of those multiple positions.
Ideally, there are an array of strategies that open up with a well-tuned gameplan.
Maybe you can justify taking goalies earlier – but getting one of the handful of more reliable netminders – because of such moves? Perhaps you can grab that Erik Karlsson or, yes, Burns because of your situation? At minimum, the glut of centers might turn into an advantage if you can grab undervalued ones later in drafts instead of scrambling to cover tougher-to-settle wing spots.
Full disclosure: I’m not certain how much of a difference this makes, but I’ve always been curious. With that in mind, share your own tales, whether you prefer Twitter, email or the comments.
You never know, we might just win some fantasy duels together with the right dual-position players.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.