San Jose Sharks: Why Dustin Byfuglien Could Be the Answer
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The San Jose Sharks head to Boston to take on Tim Thomas after chasing Jonas Hiller on the road for their second straight divisional win.
The Sharks are in prime condition after winning two games coming out of the break and find themselves in the fifth slot of the Western Conference.
After rallying from a early three-goal deficit against the Coyotes, the Sharks would hold on to prevent blowing a three-goal lead against the Ducks. The Sharks will be taking on yet another goalie on top of his game and have their work cut out for them as they try to continue building momentum towards the playoffs
As the Sharks travel to Boston, Sharks fans turn their eyes toward the approaching trade deadline with anticipation for the move we’ve all expected.
While much of the talk will still center around the obvious sellers in the East, and the many moves that can be made from teams there, there's one move that may be overlooked as possibly being the difference maker at the deadline.
And that move is for none other than Big Buff, who isn't actively being rumored in trades but is more than a target for the Sharks.
Here then are the top reasons both for and against acquiring the big man from the Atlanta Thrashers.
He’s a True Power Forward
Big Buff plays a big game
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We could talk about how the Sharks haven’t had a true power forward since Owen Nolan, who, in my mind, is still the greatest Shark of all time.
We could talk about the Sharks' lapses in physicality, lapses of work ethic, lack of willingness to go to the dirty areas when it counts.
But that would be too easy wouldn’t it?
Start with the big man himself. At 6’5", 265, he’s an imposing figure and one of the best Atlanta Thrashers players so far this season. While Byfuglien is currently playing his original position of defenceman, he would obviously be used in the top six should he don the teal.
As a Blackhawk, Byfuglien was moved to right wing by Denis Savard due to his size and physicality along the boards. He would enjoy a breakout of sorts in 2007-2008, playing in 67 games and recording 36 points with a nice average of 18 minutes a night.
Byfuglien was of course traded to the Thrashers in a shrewd “sell-high” maneuver by the Blackhawks to clear salary.
Big Buff would bring many things to the table that the Sharks need in the playoffs, namely a big body with a heavy shot and one hell of a presence in the crease.
He Fits on the Roster
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Byfuglien was moved back to defence for the Thrashers and paired with Tobias Enstrom, paying big time dividends for GM Rick Dudley. Through the first 28 games, the 25-year-old Byfuglien had 11 goals and 19 assists and was leading the surprising Thrashers to a great start.
Byfuglien is a right handed shot and would fill an immediate need at the right wing position providing impact and improving depth.
Big Buff would provide a perfect foil to the flash and dash of the top line and give opponent goaltenders nightmares. Byfuglien could be the physical playmaker, bringing a Clowe factor to the often perimeter based play of the Sharks top three skaters.
His play in the crease would drastically improve the shooting percentages of whomever he plays with, and with his big body would create space and time for them as well.
This move just makes sense on many different levels, and it’s not like we have a ton of ex-Blackhawks on the roster already right? Oh wait…..
Byfuglien was a wrecking ball in Chicago’s magical run to the Stanley Cup a year ago and didn’t show signs of slowing until the Finals. Sharks fans would need no reminder, as Byfuglien would record three game winners for the Blackhawks during the sweep of San Jose in the Western Conference Finals.
He almost singlehandedly destroyed the Canucks, scoring a hat trick and playing a huge role in the wild series. Roberto Luongo, who I am sure was quite pleased to see Byfuglien moved to Atlanta, is probably still having nightmares about the big man.
In other words, he’s kinda clutch.
"He's probably as big a player as there is in the National Hockey League and he can skate," Thrasher GM Rick Dudley said. "That skill, that combination is so attractive. We think we got something special there."
Byfuglien would struggle against the Flyers and Chris Pronger, but would still score three goals over the last two games. He would record 11 goals overall after tallying just 17 during the regular season.
His crease play would immediately play off for the Sharks and increase their shooting percentage, which has historically been horrible in the playoffs. Increasing the quality of the shots is the name of the game here, not shooting rubber at the goalie for a statistical win.
For a team known to take the easy shots and not show the will to pay the price, this is a crucial element that cannot be overlooked.
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While no one will confuse Byfuglien as a defensive stalwart, he’s more than serviceable as a defenceman in his own zone. Byfuglien can also help the blueline from a depth perspective in a pinch if needed.
The best thing about this factor of course is that he would lose no part of his game when he decides to pinch in from the point. Also, being a right handed shot, he would improve defensive pairings by giving Todd McLellan a guy that can man the point on his forehand.
This would pay off huge for the Sharks, as any Sharks fan worth his salt can immediately see the special teams continuity improve with a right hander manning the point.
This factor is not a small one for the Sharks and would provide an immediate boost to the power play and keeping the puck down low where they want it.
Atlanta Could Move Him
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While many fans may cry that there’s no way in heck that Byfuglien would be moved from the Thrashers, keep in mind that we’ve heard this before. The Thrashers have a long history of letting their star players walk and most likely will move Buff, being in a small hockey market such as Atlanta.
Marc Savard would record 97 points in 2005-2006, and the Thrashers would let him walk as a UFA. This move stung because they lost Savard and got nothing in return as management took the brunt of the poor decision.
Marian Hossa would put up over 100 points in 2007-2008, and the Thrashers would trade him to Pittsburgh.
Ilya Kovalchuk would pot 40 or more goals in five consecutive seasons and be traded to New Jersey before becoming a UFA.
In a sport so predicated by gate receipts, it’s obvious that the attendance and low market value of the Thrashers makes it difficult for them to retain their stars.
They also have a bevy of contracts to deal with in the next few years, including captain Andrew Ladd, young forward Evander Kane and defenceman Zach Bogosian.
Thrashers GM Rick Dudley is not pleased with the recent play of his team and has had a swirl of rumors circle around the team. News of the ownership group shopping the team and actively trying to sell the Thrashers is not helping team morale, nor the finances.
The Thrashers have needs, notably at goaltender and center, both of which the Sharks have pieces to move.
But....He's Going To Break the Bank
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Byfuglien is coming into his final year and will be a RFA at the end of this season and would understandably want a long term deal. He may be looking to become one of the higher paid defenceman in the league, which would probably put him around the six year, 40 million dollar mark.
Although Byfuglien and the Thrashers have cooled of late; the Thrashers know that Byfuglien’s breakout performance last year is not lost on many teams.
It’s going to be difficult for the Thrashers to sign Byfuglien, who is currently making $3 million dollars a year. It may also be difficult for the Sharks, depending on what pieces are moved and what salaries are cleared.
While the Thrashers have a ton of cap room with just 46 million in payroll, they haven’t had their payroll exceed 47 million since 2000.
If Byfuglien will want to be paid like many of the top defencemen in the league, he’s going to add weight to the top of an already top heavy roster from a salary perspective.
But.... He's Not Proven
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Big Buff does have his warts and has never scored more than 36 points in the regular season before this year. While his play was extremely effective during the postseason last year, and so far this year, that’s a very small sample for the big dollars he’s bound to ask for.
Like the Blackhawks, the Thrashers and GM Rick Dudley aren’t dumb. They know that Byfuglien is a hot commodity and will continue to be approaching the deadline.
He’s still a tremendous “sell-high” type of player, and that means overpay or giving up some serious pieces to obtain Byfuglien.
Atlanta could still need him, as they are currently sitting at eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 24-21-9 record good for 57 points.
But....We’ve Made Enough Win-Now Moves
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This is easy enough concept to grasp isn’t it? The Sharks and GM Doug Wilson have been in “win-now” mode for three to four years now, and the organizational depth has suffered because of it.
For as good as Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, Dany Heatley and the Sharks’ big ticket acquisitions have been, they have lost crucial depth and cap space for it.
Some may say the Sharks are painting themselves into a similar corner as the Blackhawks did when they won the Stanley Cup. Seeing as how so many ex-Blackhawk players currently reside in San Jose, that would provide a ironic twist to it all, wouldn’t it?
Between the Boyle, Blake and Heatley acquistions, you are talking about several players leaving the organization leaving a void in depth and salary cap flexibility.
Rob Blake of course was signed, but then required that Craig Rivet be dealt to the Buffalo Sabres for two second-round picks.
With the acquisition of star players comes the price tag of high dollar contracts. These huge salaries reduce the Sharks depth, which, in turn, forces the stars to eat more minutes, which can lead to more injuries, spotty play and lacking chemistry.
This is today’s NHL, and Doug Wilson will have to make the right choices to prepare this team for not only this season but the future.