Dustin Byfuglien is a lot of things. He’s a lightning rod for criticism for the Winnipeg Jets. At times he’s an offensive wizard on the blue line and can make magic happen while taking over a game with his talent and size. Other times, he vanishes and doesn’t reappear until a costly missed play in his own zone or a give away.
That’s the conundrum that is Byfuglien, and it will be difficult for Team USA’s management to decide exactly what to do with the defender. While there are several blueliners that will obviously be wearing the Stars and Stripes in Sochi (Ryan Suter, Keith Yandle) there are several difficult but key choices the team architects must make.
Byfuglien is figuratively and literally the biggest one.
The thing that jams up Byfuglien’s Olympic hopes more than anything is that America has been an offensive-defenseman producing machine over the last 10 years or so. Where they are lacking sorely is in the defensive specialist department. Will the U.S. take Byfuglien over a guy like Jack Johnson or Kevin Shattenkirk? Where does Paul Martin fit in, it at all?
There are a handful of guys that bring the same skill set as Byfuglien to the ice, except they are frankly all better skaters. Skating will be at a premium on the larger ice surfaces in Russia, and that might be working against the towering defenseman more than anything. He’s currently second in the NHL in scoring from the blue line with 21 points in 26 games.
While those numbers are outstanding, Byfuglien has never finished a season in the NHL on the plus-side of the ledger and isn’t known for his attention to detail in the offensive zone. Is that a price that the Americans are willing to take? Only time will tell, but there are some difficult choices to make for the U.S. on the blue line.