There have been some calls for the Toronto Maple Leafs to inquire about Dustin Byfuglien, but we explain why they should not pursue the four-time All-Star.
When Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets mutually agreed to terminate his contract and make him a free agent, you could already anticipate what the reaction would be in Southern Ontario. Almost on cue, there were calls for the Toronto Maple Leafs to inquire about the 2003 eighth round draft pick.
To be clear, this reaction was entirely understandable. Given the quality — or lack thereof — in the Leafs’ defence, Byfuglien would almost certainly provide an immediate upgrade to the unit.
After all, we’re talking about a player who is an intimidating presence for opposing teams to deal with. The 35-year-old can log big minutes, has good mobility and provides excellent offence (no surprise given that he played as a winger earlier in his career).
Byfuglien has shown he can step up in the playoffs, as evidenced by again logging big minutes while scoring 24 points (seven goals and 17 assists) in 23 playoff games during the two previous seasons in Winnipeg. He also has the invaluable experience of knowing what it takes to win it all, after capturing the Stanley Cup as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2010.
Despite this impressive resume however, we still believe it would be better if the Leafs did not pursue the four-time All-Star. Let us explain why.
First up, there is the not so small matter of what it would theoretically cost to sign Byfuglien. He was in the second-to last year of a contract which would have paid him $8 million this season and another $6 million in 2020-21.
The cap hit for both seasons was $7.6 million. Even if the Leafs could negotiate a deal where they paid less, it would still be extremely difficult to afford Byfuglien given their salary cap position. (And this is before we even consider the implications of how the COVID-19 pandemic could impact on the financial side of the game.)
However, even getting to the table to negotiate a deal might be a challenge in itself, when considering a report from Kelly Moore of Global News. After the agreement between Byfuglien and the Jets to terminate his contract, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was able to offer more insight into what happened.
As per Moore, Cheveldayoff said Byfuglien told him prior to the 2019-20 season that he didn’t know if he wanted to play anymore. When the GM asked about being traded, the blue-liner said his mindset had nothing to do with wanting to be moved.
Things remained amicable between the two sides. However, the Jets were in an awkward position where even though the Minneapolis, Minnesota native didn’t know if he wanted to continue playing, he also didn’t want to retire.
Due to Winnipeg having to make roster decisions and consider the salary cap implications, they decided to suspend Byfuglien. For his part, he said he understood.
In October, Moore reported that Byfuglien’s agent Ben Hankinson said his client now wanted to play again. However, this would not be until after he had ankle surgery.
Unfortunately for the Jets, any hope of Byfuglien returning to the team was dashed in January. Hankinson contacted Cheveldayoff to advise his client wasn’t going to continue with his rehab.
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A trade was still not an option, as the defenceman had reverted back to not wanting to play. This led to the recent turn of events with the decision to terminate the contract, even though this was not something the Jets wanted to do.
As easy as it would have been for Cheveldayoff and the Jets to criticize Byfuglein, they have decided to take the high road. Regardless, with how things played out, he is still going to theoretically be perceived negatively around the league.
Even if general manager Kyle Dubas could somehow negotiate a cap-friendly deal with Byfuglien, how invested is he going to be in playing hockey again? If his heart isn’t in it anymore, how much of an effort would the Leafs get from him, especially at a position where the team is weakest and most needs a total commitment from everyone.
Overall, while it’s a nice idea to have Byfuglien playing for the Leafs, this is fantasy land stuff. Back here in the real world, it is better if they steer clear of him.
What is your take on inquiring about Byfuglien? Should the Toronto Maple Leafs pursue him or not, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.