Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bigger Byfuglien in no shape for a trade

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Dustin Byfuglien is going to be mentioned in trade talks as the NHL draft draws closer and the talking point that will be raised again and again is his weight.

It was evident Byfuglien grew heavier this season as the games moved on and according to accredited Jets blogger Pete Tessier, the player's weight rose to 302 pounds by season's end.

If there's any truth to this number, Byfuglien is virtually untradeable. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can't engage in trade talks with another GM and keep Byfuglien's weight off the table until the very end -- then hit his colleague with an, "oh, by the way, Buff's a little big right now."

Cheveldayoff has a solid reputation in the NHL for good reason. He's above board, and hiding a player's physical ailment, such as being overweight or having a bad knee, isn't kosher. It comes out anyway. Teams must hand over medical reports and players must pass physicals.

The Jets weren't having any of this talk when reached for a comment on Monday evening.

"The Jets have never been, and never will be, in the habit of commenting on rumours started on Twitter," wrote a team spokesman in a text message.

We'll leave the debate as to what the team should comment on to the Jets, as it's their business. But Byfuglien's late-season appearance and coach Claude Noel's clear displeasure with him were red flags. Did Buff weigh three bills during an NHL season? Don't know. But it's not unimaginable.

Tessier isn't known for being a rumour-monger and printing an outright lie is a quick way to get one's press credentials yanked. Tessier would have to have a good source and be in strong position to defend his story. I checked with Tessier Monday night and he stood by his story and his source.

All this brings us back to what the Jets need to do about Dustin Byfuglien, arguably their most talented player and a highly-paid one, at $5,750,000 this coming season.

It's been stated he's soon to be a diminishing asset, but his lack of conditioning has already decreased his value at just age 28. Cheveldayoff would be at a disadvantage in any trade negotiation right now. The whispers about Byfuglien's conditioning long ago broke into open conversation.

No, the Jets can't dump Byfuglien on someone else's lap unless they are willing to accept a deep discount on the return. Not now.

Cheveldayoff's best bet is to turn the trick no one has been able to -- that's to somehow reach Byfuglien and get him into shape and playing a more disciplined game.

Byfuglien regressed this past season as his conditioning slipped and he became more and more unpredictable as a player. There were some brilliant games early in the season but as the pace quickened, Byfuglien became less and less effective.

Noel was visibly frustrated with the player and when questioned after a string of poor games in late March, bit his lip before offering this assessment.

"Well, he's been... I'll just say up and down," said Noel.

It was right around this time that Byfuglien no longer had the option to take days off from practice or morning skates, as did other veterans.

Noel looked for answers, first moving Byfuglien up to forward for a game-and-a-half and then limiting his ice. Neither proved to be answers.

The Jets can't move forward with Byfuglien in his current form. He either has to get better or be moved. Problem is he can't be dealt in his present state. No one will pay top dollar for a player in obvious disrepair.

Cheveldayoff must have fond memories of Byfuglien from their days of winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. But that time is long gone and the business of hockey is no place for nostalgia.

Byfuglien has become a problem. One that Cheveldayoff must solve before the Jets can take the next step. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 11, 2013 C1


Updated on Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 9:31 AM CDT: adds photo

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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
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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