In the midst of a five-game losing streak, there may be more serious problems brewing for the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets have been playing mediocre hockey in the past five games. After leading the Southeast Division for a good two weeks, the Jets have finally fallen out of a playoff spot. The red-hot Washington Capitals overtook the Jets for first place and suddenly things are looking bleak.
The Jets have nine games left on their schedule, seven of those which will be played on home ice. Unless the Jets finish unexpectedly strong, they could end up with a top-five draft pick come June. Things aren’t looking good in Winnipeg.
Amongst the mediocre play, another situation is brewing involving defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.
In the past 15-20 games, Byfuglien has been a complete non-factor. His offensive presence has disappeared and his defensive game has never been worse. This isn’t just about his woeful play; it’s more about the lack of effort and laziness that he displays almost every shift.
Byfuglien was playing defense until coach Claude Noel decided to try and change it up a bit. On Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens, Byfuglien started the game as a right winger on the Jets’ top line. Byfuglien has had experience as a forward in the past, but the experiment at forward as a Jet was short lived.
At the start of the third period, Byfuglien was sent back to his normal defensive role. I guess you could say that was also short lived. The Canadiens scored their fourth goal of the game as Byfuglien failed to tie up his man. As a result, he was benched.
This wasn’t the first time Byfuglien played with no effort or looked like he could completely care less about hockey. Surprisingly, it took about four weeks before Noel decided to act on it.
In the postgame presser, Noel didn’t shy away from the topic.
“This isn’t the first time that they have put a puck at the net and he is standing beside the guy without taking stick, so after awhile you just can’t continue down that road. You have to make changes.” (sportsillustrated.com)
Now, I’ve disagreed with Noel more times than not in the past, but I back him all the way on this one. Noel is blunt during his postgame conference as he calls out Byfuglien. He is absolutely right for doing so. Byfuglien has to be held accountable for his insulting play which has gone on for long enough.
Byfuglien wears an ‘A’ on his jersey, but he hasn’t shown any leadership at all. It’s time for him to smarten up and play with passion or this will be an ongoing problem all the way into the offseason.
The Jets will be in action next on Saturday as they host the Philadelphia Flyers. It’ll be interesting to see how Byfuglien responds to being called out. Will he respond with passion, energy, effort and the sense that he actually cares, or will he just ignore the coach’s message?
Either way, it’s going to be an interesting storyline to follow.
If Byfuglien plays well down the stretch and shows the fans, as well as the coach, he cares, it’ll send a positive vibe to Noel and the staff. If it’s the latter and Byfuglien ignores the message, a lot of questions will arise.
Not only will Byfuglien be questioned, but I’m sure Noel will be looked at as well. I don’t want to get ahead of the game, but if Byfuglien is unhappy, we have a problem. Who else is unhappy? Alex Burmistrov? Anyone else not yet named? Does Noel have to take some heat as well?
It’s a road I’m not going to go down yet, but the storyline is one we all have to keep an eye on as the season winds down.