Should The Maple Leafs Go After Dustin Byfuglien?
With his team falling in the Eastern Conference standings and nothing in the form of relief seemingly available from the Toronto Marlies, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis has a dilemma on his hands— stand pat and watch his team go down in flames, or make a significant move that improves your team immediately.
In the past, simply adding a player of substance to the Maple Leafs’ lineup would have appeased the Blue and White’s fan base. At this point, with little in the way of leadership, physical play or ownership of poor play, the Maple Leafs not only need to improve their roster, they will need to address their sub-par culture.
In order to do this, the Maple Leafs will be in search of not only a talented player, but a big personality, someone who makes a difference on the scoresheet, speaks out in the locker room and has a voice on the ice.
While captain Dion Phaneuf, veterans Joffrey Lupul and David Bolland exhibit a measure of leadership on the ice, it appears as if this trio has fallen short in the leadership department and are in need of a shot in the arm.
When you consider the Maple Leafs’ recent struggles, it appears as if the Buds have issues at both ends of the ice. The defense has struggled to get the puck out of their own end and has struggled to make consistent outlet passes, while the forwards have fallen short of their defensive responsibilities on far too many occasions.
With the exception of a few games where the entire roster hung them out to dry, netminders Jonathan Bernier (8-7-2, 2.44 goals against average and a 0.929 save percentage) and James Reimer (6-3-1, 2.58 GAA, 0.931 SV%) have been excellent for the Maple Leafs.
Trouble is, as great as Bernier and Reimer have played, the Maple Leafs and their coaching staff are yet to figure out how to stop the opposition from averaging 35.9 shots against per game, ranking the Maple Leafs 30th in that department.
Toronto’s horrific shots against and a recent inability to put the puck in the net, have the Maple Leafs spiraling down the Eastern Conference standings with a paltry 3-4-3 record in their past ten games.
While one player will not completely turn around the fortunes of the Blue and White, a player of consequence, a player with the ability to change the tempo of the game, a player with the ability to lay the body at both ends of the ice, would do a world of good for the Maple Leafs and perhaps get them rolling in the right direction again.
In a salary cap world, trades of substance are tough to come by, but they are not an impossibility. So, which player or players are available?
Recent rumors suggest that defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is quietly being shopped by the Winnipeg Jets.
If this is true, there may not be a better player available that owns the unique combination of skill, leadership and on-ice presence that Byfuglien does. Truth be told, Byfuglien might just be the perfect addition to a Maple Leafs roster that is in dire need of an identity and improved play—especially on the backend.
Originally drafted in the eighth round (245th overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Byfuglien (28) was an integral part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victory in 2009-10. During the Blackhawks’ Cup run, Byfuglien scored 11 goals and added five assists for a total of 16 points. Byfuglien scored five of his 11 goals on the power play during Chicago’s impressive Cup run and, in the minds of some, was the Hawks’ MVP.
A veteran player who is a Stanley Cup winner with a measure of attitude, jam and offensive skills—would a player of this ilk not be the perfect addition to the Maple Leafs’ lineup?
In order to bring Byfuglien to their organization the defunct Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) paid a steep price. Of course, in order to land a player like Byfuglien the Maple Leafs would likely have to do the same (pay a steep price).
Byfuglien was acquired by the Thrashers from Chicago with Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Akim Aliu for Marty Reasoner, Jeremy Morin, Joey Crabb, a first-round draft choice in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (Chicago selected Kevin Hayes) and a second-round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (Chicago selected Justin Holl).
With a record of 12-12-4 through 28 games, the Jets have struggled to find their groove this season. The Jets rank 22nd overall in goals for (2.43 per game), 19th in goals against (2.75 per game), 28th on the power play with a success rate of 11.5 percent and 16th overall on the penalty kill at an 83 percent success rate.
Needless to say, Winnipeg could use an upgrade in all areas of the ice. While the fan base continues to support their team religiously, many feel the Jets have enough depth on their roster to compete right now.
Bryan Little leads all Jets’ forwards with 12 goals and 25 points, Byfuglien sits second with six goals and 21 points, while Andrew Ladd rounds out the top three with seven goals and 20 points of his own.
Sitting seventh in scoring for the Jets is youngster Evander Kane, who has struggled to light the lamp, registering seven goals and 14 points. Down the depth chart, Devin Setoguchi (a player that may benefit form a change in scenery) sits eighth in scoring with six goals and 13 points.
Contrary to rumors surfacing earlier in the season, it would appear as if the Jets have no intention of trading the likes of Kane. With youngsters Jacob Trouba and Zach Bogosian demonstrating that they belong in the NHL, the Jets may consider moving a defenseman, which is where the Byfuglien rumors are likely stemming from.
Carrying a cap hit of $5.2 million, Byfuglien is an expensive commodity. If Nonis was to bring Byfuglien to Toronto he would need to move some salary back to Winnipeg in the deal as both teams are close to the salary cap limit, especially the Maple Leafs.
With the Maple Leafs struggling to find their identity on the ice and their recent slide in the standings, Nonis is sure to be looking at his options, sooner, rather than later.
23-year old defenseman Jake Gardiner has been mentioned in just about every trade rumor the Maple Leafs have been involved in. While inconsistent in his defensive responsibilities and a risk taker by nature, Gardiner’s upside is attractive to many NHL clubs in search of a young offensive defenseman.
Through 26 games with the Buds, Gardiner has registered six assists and currently sits with a plus+2 rating.
While Gardiner on his own would not be enough to land Byfuglien, the inclusion of him in a deal would be a good starting point for a club (Jets) that continues to build with young/skilled players.
With centre David Bolland expected to remain out of the Leafs’ lineup for an extended period of time, it would be tough for Nonis to include a forward from the current roster in any deal for Byfuglien. Prospects like Carter Ashton, Josh Leivo, Tyler Biggs and Greg McKegg could also be included in a deal for Byfuglien or maybe even the highly touted Frederik Gauthier (although I hear the Maple Leafs are extremely high on him).
While a package of Gardiner, a prospect (or prospects) and draft picks may seem like a high price to land Byfuglien, it may not be enough. Lets face it, if Byfuglien is in play, there will be plenty of interest in him. The Jets want to win now, and mid-tier prospects and draft choices will not cut it—especially if the cost is one of their best players and leaders.
How does Nonis land Byfuglien?
Recent addition Peter Holland would be a nice addition to the deal. Tyler Bozak, Mason Raymond and Nikolai Kulemin are decent players, but hardly enough to entice the Jets to move Byfuglien, are they?
In the end, Nonis would probably have to expand the deal in order for both teams to be happy with the return. Both teams have plenty of needs, it is just a matter of making the return and the cap work.