How will rare specimen Dustin Byfuglien hold up over time?

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This is part of Jets Day at PHT …

Simply put, there aren’t many – if any – hockey beings quite like Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

If you’re one of those people who get annoyed when the word “unique” is thrown around so often, take heart: Byfuglien really might be one-of-a-kind.

As Arctic Ice Hockey put it, the Jets essentially chose Byfuglien over Andrew Ladd, and this explanation succinctly captures the spirit of the decision:

Regardless of when he does slow down we need to remember that he is absolutely irreplaceable. There are plenty of Andrew Ladd’s in the NHL that you can acquire through free agency, drafting, and trades. But there is only one Dustin Byfuglien.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made a reasonable call in signing Byfuglien to a five-year, $38 million contract. Still, Buffy is already 31, so how quickly will that $7.6 million cap hit become a problem?

(If ever?)

Let’s look at some of the facets of this situation.

Ice time

Interestingly, Byfuglien hasn’t been a huge workhorse for much of his career.

This past season represented his peak workload, as Byfuglien averaged 25:12 minutes per game in 81 games played. His average in Winnipeg is 23:46.

While this might illustrate some of the organizational confusion over how to use the unusual weapon in the past, it also give you the impression that they might be willing to spell him when needed.

As much as they’ll want to get their money’s worth, keeping Byfuglien fresh is a wise idea.

Size

The Jets have a healthy attitude about their NFL linebacker-sized beast of a blueliner. Just take it from what Blake Wheeler said to the Vancouver Sun.

“He’s come a ways, in terms of how he approaches things,” Wheeler said. “He’s made some strides since he’s been in Winnipeg. And it’s paid off for him. (But) if you’re looking for him to become a shutdown defenceman, you’re missing what makes him so great.”

His huge frame is part of what makes him such a force, and as he ages, it could serve as a double-edged sword.

On one hand, carrying all that weight could be a problem for his knees. Injuries may begin to escalate, especially if the Jets lean on him too much. Mobility may be an issue for a guy who likes to “freelance,” too.

That said, there are some reasons to believe that Byfuglien might not slip as much because of his size.

His big body earns him room to roam, and even if that mass isn’t moving as quickly, he’s likely to buy himself some space.

He’ll still be able to hit hard, and maybe most importantly, it’s likely that his shot will remain terrifying. Maybe Byfuglien will need to gradually shift into a more specialized role over the years, but it’s conceivable that he can still make a difference for the Jets.

Even if he eventually flops, his re-signing showed that players will stick around with this franchise. That’s a win for a locale that traditionally struggles to draw free agents.

***

This post doesn’t include many historical nods for a reason: there really aren’t a lot of guys like Byfuglien.

High-risk, high-reward is how his game is often described, so it only seems fitting that his contract is perceived in the same way. It should be entertaining to see how it all plays out.