Preparing for the big Dustin Byfuglien regression

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WINNIPEG, CANADA - FEBRUARY 10: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets hits the ice prior to puck drop against the Minnesota Wild on February 10, 2015 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)
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Matt Coller of ESPN.com has a post up about regression candidates for the 2015-16 season, with a fantasy focus ($$$). It covers some obvious choices – Devan Dubnyk, Nick Foligno – and a few I frankly don’t see regressing. (Marc-Andre Fleury’s shorthanded save percentage spiked after a coaching change; why assume it’ll regress?) 

One interesting name, though, was Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets. Writes Coller:

Along with Brent Burns, the former Blackhawk is the only defenseman in the NHL who can slide into a forward role and continue to produce. Byfuglien was limited to 69 games, but scored 18 goals and 27 assists, and also landed on the positive side of plus-minus, which he has struggled to do throughout his career.

There are some statistical red flags with Byufglien, such as his first assist rate of 29.6 percent, and highest shooting percentage since 2007-08, but the reason to stay away from the 30-year-old is simply uncertainty. The further usage of 2014-15 trade deadline acquisition of Tyler Myers may hurt Byfuglien's ice time, or force him back to forward, where he is not exceptional from a fantasy standpoint. It could mean a trade, too.

Byfuglien’s numbers have been right around 0.26 goals per game and between 0.65 and 0.72 points per game over the last three seasons. As Coller noted, the plus-5 last season was his first plus-season in the NHL since 2009 with the Chicago Blackhawks.

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But it’s the fact that Byfuglien’s in his walk year that makes his situation fascinating.The last time he was in this situation, he posted (at the time) the best points per game average of his career (0.65) and scored 20 goals for the first time.

What are the Jets going to do with this guy? Sign him for what the Winnipeg Sun said could he a $7-million annual hit in a long-term deal?

From the Sun, Ted Wyman argues that they can be a better team without him:

The Jets have plenty of other players they need to pay in the coming years – up-and-coming defenceman Jacob Trouba for instance -- and if they sign Byfuglien to a long-term deal they will have a huge portion of their salary cap devoted to right-handed shooting defencemen (Tyler Myers is under contract until 2019).

Myers and Trouba can play the point on the power play, filling the void if Byfuglien is moved, and while the Jets will be a less physical team on the blue-line no doubt, they managed just fine this season without big No. 33.

In fact, the Jets went 9-3-1 when Byfuglien was out of the lineup due to injury or suspension this past season. They went 16-9-7 when he was at forward.

With Byfuglien on defence, the Jets went 18-14-5, which is not bad, but not as good as the 25 wins they generated when he wasn’t on the blue-line.

When the Jets played their best shutdown defensive games of the season, a 2-0 win over Minnesota, a 1-0 win over St. Louis and a 1-0 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche – the games that made the difference between making and missing the playoffs – Byfuglien was in the press box.

Byfuglien’s numbers this season are going to be in a push-pull between his role on the Jets and the expected stats bump that comes with a search for a new contract.

Ultimately, it’s the role that’ll define him: The ice time, the defense vs. forward debate and where exactly Byfuglien ends up playing next season if the Jets aren’t re-signing him.

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