NHL Mailbag: Dustin Byfuglien's possible retirement is a shocker

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Dustin Byfuglien's future is clouded in mystery right now. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dustin Byfuglien's future is clouded in mystery right now. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

When the news broke yesterday morning that Dustin Byfuglien was taking a leave of absence from the Winnipeg Jets — reportedly because he doesn’t love the game like he needs to anymore — that kinda threw a big wrench in everyone’s plans.

In what might have been a fun week of cool questions, almost everything I got was about Big Buff and what his absence does to the Jets and, indeed, the Central Division as a whole. So whatever, I’ll give the people what they want: A mailbag with lots of Byfuglien-related takes. I’m really nice.

Plus there’s some other stuff.

Let’s go:

Dan asks: “If Byfuglien walks away, is this the most surprising retirement of the last 25 years? Guy who is still good, owed a ton of money, and walks away completely.”

Yeah, I mean, unless we hear this is injury-related — like his back is shot or something — I think it’s not even close. Not that Byfuglien is a young guy, because he isn’t, and he’s put in a lot of hard miles. He’s averaged 24-plus minutes a night since 2010-11, and between the regular season and playoffs, he’s put in well over 900 games.

You maybe don’t think of him this way, but his first NHL appearance came in the first year post-lockout. It’s a slog to put in 14 seasons of work and it’s tough on you mentally and physically.

I’m shocked to learn anyone would walk away from $14 million for two years’ worth of work, but if Byfuglien doesn’t feel like he can be his best self, then I get it. Still, terribly shocking.

Telfo asks: “If Byfuglien retires, should the Jets just trade Laine and begin tearing it all down?”

Laine’s contract difficulties aside, he wouldn’t be the guy to start with in a tear-down.

Granted, Blake Wheeler has a no-move clause and costs a ton of money, but he’s 33 and signed for five more seasons. Don’t you think someone might want him in a tear-down? Maybe 31-year-old Bryan Little, who’s also on a no-move? Mathieu Perreault and his partial no-trade?

Point is, if you’re gonna have a sell-off, you don’t start with the 21-year-old who has 110 career goals already. Even if the contract stalemate is ongoing.

I’m not sure the Byfuglien retirement alone should be the trigger point on any decision like that, but the state of that entire defense arguably is.

Dave asks: “How screwed are the Jets if Byfuglien never plays again?”

Pretty screwed. If you’re looking at, say, they’re now short a right defender, and the three they have remaining — Pionk, Niku, and Poolman — aren’t exactly top-pair guys. Not that you have much reason to dislike Niku, but that can’t be his usage this year, at age 22.

So right now it’s Morrissey and Pionk? Then you maybe go Kulikov-Niku and Beaulieu-Poolman? Yikes. Even if you’re higher on Pionk than you should be, even if you think Niku is the future, that’s bleak.

At that point, maybe you just go 4F1D all season. What’s the difference?

Now that all that’s out of the way…

Connor asks: “Are the Blues low-key missing another top forward?”

Well you’d always like another top forward on your roster, obviously, but with the Blues in particular you’re probably looking for some insurance on a Ryan O’Reilly regression and more injuries to the group that won you a Cup last year.

O’Reilly’s interesting because he never played with players of the quality he got to last year, but he was a legitimate MVP candidate who surpassed his previous career high in scoring by 20-plus percent.

As I’ve said many times, the way the Blues play means they don’t need insanely great seasons from their big names from last spring. As long as everyone provides an average output and put up the same kind of xG numbers, they’ll be more than fine.

But yeah, figure out a way to get another guy to put the puck in the net and you’re golden.

Jim asks: “How long of a leash does Babcock have? With such a stacked team, but also a history of misusing talent, playing favorites, and disagreeing with his GM, would/should an early playoff exit warrant a firing?”

I’d think there’s basically no way he gets fired in-season, unless the team has a huge skid, but another first-round exit (especially to the Bruins) can’t be seen as acceptable.

No one is making him put Cody Ceci on the top pair, but to some extent he’s going to play who’s available, and it’s up to Kyle Dubas to take those toys away. But at the same time, yeah, you go out early again especially after the spending sprees of the last two offseasons, and I don’t care how many Olympic golds and Cups you have, or how many commas are on your paychecks. That’s gotta be it.

Tyler asks: “Kakko or Hughes?”

I feel like I’ve answered this before but the answer is Kakko now, probably Hughes in the long run, and Makar for Calder.

Sean asks: “Islanders: yes or no?”

No one is going to believe this but I really do have the Islanders in the playoffs again next season, albeit well below 100 points. I think there’s no way they’re as good as last year, especially because I consider Lehner-to-Varlamov a big downgrade in net.

But I think they’ll play responsibly enough that they’re still decent. They feel like first-round fodder for a division winner, but that isn’t so bad considering.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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