Would the Jets be better off with Byfuglien on defense?

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When it comes to Winnipeg Jets defenseman/forward/science experiment on ice Dustin Byfuglien, it’s easy to overlook the positives and linger on negative headlines about his weight and defensive acumen.

Let there be no doubt about it, though: there are few (if any) players quite like Byfuglien. Erik Karlsson is the only defenseman who has topped Byfuglien’s 190 points since Big Buff was traded to then-Atlanta before the 2010-11 season.

Of course, it’s probably not accurate to call him a defenseman … at least not now. The question is: should Jets head coach Paul Maurice move him back to the blueline, though?

It’s a question that’s probably a little more complicated than both sides of the argument might think.

Why they might want to move him back to D

Arctic Ice Hockey generated some compelling and pretty stark comparisons between “Byfuglien the forward” and “Byfuglien the defenseman.” You don’t need to squint your eyes to see the dramatic statistical differences between the 29-year-old’s superior work from the blueline vs. his time as one of the team’s forwards. If nothing else, that same site made a reasonable argument that “Buffy the Hamburger Slayer” might not have been used in the most ideal forward combinations.

Ultimately, it’s unclear if Byfuglien can be effective as a forward, while he’s been an All-Star as a defenseman. Even if you have doubts about his positioning/”hockey IQ,” there’s a growing school of thought that the best defense is to be on offense more often … and Byfuglien (the defenseman) might just be a poster child for that movement.

Beyond that thought, there’s also a rather simple extra argument in favor of moving him back to D: he’d probably log more ice time. That’s really Maurice’s call to make, but defensemen generally find themselves getting more reps and it’s best to have your superior players on the ice more often than not …

Forward-thinking

  • The Jets might simply believe that he’s more of an upgrade over the forward he’s moving down the lineup than the defenseman he’d shuffle around. With some promising pieces like Jacob Trouba emerging, it’s not unreasonable to make such an argument.
  • As he gets older, questions about his mobility will only increase. Risk-averse coaches will likely feel more comfortable with Byfuglien receiving fewer responsibilities.
  • Moving a player like Byfuglien from the crease is a foreboding task, and while he can still get into position to screen goalies as a “rover,” it’s a more reasonable proposition as a traditional forward.

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In the interest of avoiding poll fatigue, let’s hash this out in the comments. Which move is in Winnipeg’s best interest: keeping Byfuglien at forward or on defense? Or should Maurice just throw a dart before each game? So many options …

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