He is adamant Dustin Byfuglien will remain a forward, but perhaps Paul Maurice is selling his coaching talents a bit short. And, by extension, hurting his team.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/10/2014 (2780 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

He is adamant Dustin Byfuglien will remain a forward, but perhaps Paul Maurice is selling his coaching talents a bit short. And, by extension, hurting his team.

Byfuglien has a higher ceiling as a defenceman than a forward. The counter is he can do loads more damage on the blue-line.

Winnipeg Jets Dustin Byfuglien


Winnipeg Jets Dustin Byfuglien

Last season, with a forward group that often sputtered and was a two-line entity until Byfuglien joined the mix, it was best for the Jets to move the behemoth off the blue-line.

Too often Byfuglien appeared winded and disinterested when the puck was in the Winnipeg Jets' defensive zone. His gaffes were like neon paint spilled on a virgin sheet of ice.

In a move born of both desperation and frustration, Claude Noel moved Byfuglien from his beloved blue-line post to the wing. The decision wasn't enough to save Noel's job, but when Maurice arrived he refused to reverse field and left Big Buff where Noel had parked him.

And it worked. Byfuglien added a dimension the Jets were missing in the forward corps and the team put together a nice run before finally slipping in the last month and missing the playoffs.

Roster changes in Winnipeg, however, make discussing a move back to defence for Byfuglien worthwhile. Not to mention the effect Maurice might be able to have on Byfuglien's defensive-zone play.

Byfuglien is useful both as a forward and a defenceman. Winnipeg's biggest need right now would appear to be on the blue-line. If Maurice can figure out a way to have Byfuglien defend with as much gusto as he puts into his offensive forays, the Jets could be a better team.

It's not overstatement to say Byfuglien can change the Jets all by himself. He has vast abilities, more than any other player in a Jets jersey. As a defenceman he can be a No. 1. As a forward, he's a second-line right-winger at best.

Over his career, Byfuglien's Corsi, goals percentage, points per game average and goals for/goals against numbers have all been higher when he's been used as a defenceman. During a stretch from 2010 to 2013 he put up his best numbers while patrolling the blue-line. The numbers dipped during the first half of last season on defence, then all his numbers, save his Corsi, improved slightly once he moved to forward.

It's obvious where he can have more of an impact. Byfuglien has shown he can be elite in many ways -- as a defenceman. As a forward, not so much. The rub, as most Jets observers can attest, is Byfuglien can cut both ways. All of his soaring statistics as a defenceman can be undone by defensive blunders at key moments of a game.

Can coaching have an impact? Monitor his minutes and try to find some way to have him work on paying more attention in his own zone. Byfuglien's defensive issues aren't due to a lack of talent or hockey sense. They come down to focus. Can Maurice get the player to sharpen his defensive approach? Certainly the benefits suggest the exercise is worthwhile.

Winnipeg's lineup with Byfuglien at forward leaves a defence with almost every player playing above his natural station. Install Byfuglien with Toby Enstrom in the top pairing and everyone else can move back a slot. Put Zach Bogosian with Jacob Trouba in the second pairing and Mark Stuart with Paul Postma or Grant Clitsome in the final pairing.

It would be a substantial improvement should Byfuglien accept the assignment and develop a passion to defend. He can still be a rover and a nightmare for the opposition to plan against, but when the puck is in his zone, he must defend. Otherwise his detriments outweigh his worth and Maurice is better off using Byfuglien on the wing. A bit of a waste perhaps, but Buff is Buff and the Jets will have to live with it.

Up front, losing Byfuglien isn't a death blow. Newcomers Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perrault and T.J. Galiardi will almost certainly be an improvement over what was offered from James Wright, Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi one season ago.

Maurice was right last season when he concluded Byfuglien the defenceman was a problem. Moving him to, then keeping him at forward was the most expeditious way to stop the bleeding.

But the cure for last year may not be what best serves the Jets today.

Byfuglien is by far the most challenging of the Jets to coach. Getting the most of his abilities won't be easy. But Maurice seems to have a different way with this group. And while it may prove to be only temporary, why not strike while the iron is hot?

No doubt, a man like Maurice, who has taken on huge challenges in hockey, is up for the test. Why not see if he can unlock the secret, taking Byfuglien from frustrating to dominating.

And what's the harm in trying? If it fails, we all know Byfuglien can be a positive factor as a forward. What it comes down to is what Maurice expects from this player. Good is nice. All-world is better.

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