Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Enough of Buff: Get rid of him

Lacks commitment, discipline of true pro

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Dustin BYFUGLIEN stands in the way of progress. He either needs to begin moving in the right direction or be removed from the path.

The one-time all-star defenceman must either commit to excellence or be traded. The current approach is unacceptable.

The Winnipeg Jets cannot and will not move forward as a team with Byfuglien as he is currently constructed. He is a foundation piece and his half-the-time good and half-the-time bad output leaves the team with unsure footing.

The guessing and hoping has to end. It has to be now or never, where Byfuglien is concerned. He's either going to decide to be elite and do what is necessary to reach that level or he's going to continue to depreciate.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff must determine whether Byfuglien is on the verge of a breakthrough. Will Byfuglien transform into a defenceman the Jets can count on every night? Or will it be the status quo?

If it's the latter, it's time to part ways.

Trade him now while there is still value. The perfect deal likely won't be out there but not moving will haunt this franchise.

Byfuglien won a Stanley Cup as a complementary player with the Chicago Blackhawks. Since he's been elevated into a primary role with the franchise now known as the Winnipeg Jets, there have been no playoff games. Not one over the last three years.

There are all sorts of issues that add up to this result but Byfuglien is a major part of the formula that hasn't produced.

The 28-year-old Minnesota native played in 43 games this season, scoring eight goals and 20 assists. Solid offensive numbers, but too often the production came at a cost. The Jets were among the worst defensive teams in the league, ranked 25th with 141 goals against.

Byfuglien, as one of the blue-line leaders in ice time and opportunity, wears much of that responsibility. He can take one's breath away with a rush up ice but he can also produce great angst with his lack of defensive awareness.

Keeping him in such a key position no longer makes sense. It isn't working.

There's been talk about Byfuglien changing his game to be more balanced and less of a risk. It hasn't materialized into a consistent reality.

His fitness issue was supposed to be addressed and resolved. Hasn't happened. It may have gotten worse.

Byfuglien, with his talent and experience, should be a slam dunk for the U.S. Olympic team next year. He's barely a consideration at this point and it's not because he doesn't have ability. It's because he's not worth the headache.

Upside in a player is great. But Byfuglien isn't a kid anymore.

He's an eight-year pro with 450 NHL games under his belt. At what point does a player complete his growth and his performance become predictable, for good or bad? If this is what Byfuglien is going to be, it isn't good enough. Nowhere near good enough.

Wanting to keep Byfuglien to cash in when he figures it all out is understandable. But how long can an organization wait?

The promise of Byfuglien is holding the Jets hostage. Waiting and wondering if he will ever fulfill all of what the Jets need from him falls under the "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me," category.

We all know how talented Byfuglien is and how he can grab a game and dominate it. When he's moving downhill and feeling right, Byfuglien is a force like no other. But there's another side to Byfuglien. One of poor choices and fatigued play.

It begins and ends with commitment. Commitment to play a responsible style on a consistent basis and commitment to train like a professional athlete.

At some point, and perhaps its already been reached, Byfuglien's resistance to change will infect the rest of the Jets.

How can Claude Noel demand a certain standard when one of his core players doesn't come close to meeting it? How can Andrew Ladd take a player aside and tell him he's not doing enough to help the team when Byfuglien isn't reaching the minimum?

Byfuglien provides the rest of the room with an excuse.

The Atlanta Thrashers were all about excuses. The Winnipeg Jets say they want to be about results.

It's time to for management to demand those results.

Or get players that offer them.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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