The Dustin Byfuglien saga was a consistent and constant headline throughout the 2019-20 NHL season. After years of being one of the league’s most feared defensemen, he struggled with injury. Byfuglien had been out with an ankle injury for a large period of time starting in December but returned in time for the playoffs. As training camp started, so did a dispute between ‘Big Buff’ and his longtime team. Between retirement thoughts, ankle surgery, and salary disputes, it’s hard to actually pin what happened.
However, that’s that. With news of the situation resolving with the termination of Byfuglien’s deal, I must do what I do best. Linking every move to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Does a Byfuglien/Leafs fit make sense?
I could just say “Well, I think Byfuglien plays some defense” and all of Leafs Nation would be like “Yeah, that works”.
Currently, without any further re-signings, the Leafs’ right side of the blue line is set to run: Justin Holl, Travis Dermott, and Timothy Liljegren. Justin Holl took a huge step this season, even if he had his low spots, he had points where he was the best Leafs defenseman. Travis Dermott didn’t take a noticeable step, but he’s solid and is expected to take a large one this season. Timothy Liljegren showed that he’s not far from being a full-time NHLer.
However, it’s not a knock on them when I say that it’s not the ideal right side.
Dustin Byfuglien, with age and injury, is long past being a top-pairing NHLer. In fact, if he does decide to come back, he probably shouldn’t even get full-time responsibilities. I like the idea of a platoon with Timothy Liljegren (who would, hypothetically, also spend time with the Marlies).
Byfuglien would bring a big, heavy-hitting presence to a team that so desperately needs one. Byfuglien is also another offense-heavy defenseman, another that will, hopefully, help out the offense-heavy Leafs system.
*sigh* This is easy.
Does Dustin Byfuglien Want To Keep Playing?
Byfuglien reportedly doesn’t want to keep playing, and that makes sense. At 35 years old, he’s already won a cup, he’s already enjoyed a long career full of accolades. Between injury and age, it’s hard to imagine Byfuglien is jumping at the opportunity to play for the money he’d likely get. Even though many assumed his self-elected ankle surgery was due to his desire to play again, it was probably 1. Help win his arbitration case against the Jets and 2. To get his ankle closer to 100%.
How Will He Perform After Surgery
At 35, coming off of ankle surgery, with a whole year off from professional hockey, even if he elects to continue playing, will Dustin Byfuglien be anywhere near the player he once was? That would be the biggest question for teams that believe he still has interest in playing. Is it a risk teams are willing to take? If he’s signed, it will almost definitely not be on a deal that will see him on a PTO first. It’s a big if for teams that are interested, one that the Leafs might not be so willing to take.
*Sigh* Every single time! The salary cap has a huge impact on all of the Leafs’ moves. If the cap isn’t raised at all, the Leafs will have a hard time even signing enough players to have a complete roster. Even if they trade one of Andreas Johnsson / Kasperi Kapanen / Alexander Kerfoot, they might still not have enough to lure Byfuglien away from other potential destinations. If Big Buff does decide to return to the league, the Leafs might not be able to give him a contract comparable to the Kevin Shattenkirk deal.
Unfortunately, I think the risk outweighs the reward. There’s a lot of “if”, and it still also relies on Dustin Byfuglien’s decision in the end. So, no, a Byfuglien/Leafs fit probably doesn’t make sense.
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