Dustin Byfuglien in a Boston Bruins uniform sure sounds nice. And the rumors of him playing for the Black n’ Gold were floating all around the Twitter-sphere the past few days. I bought into the idea, thinking of what jersey number he’d wear, how many Habs he’d lay out, etc. Without a doubt it’s an interesting move that, if true, the Bruins should strongly consider making.
Byfuglien is a 6’5″, 260 lbs. mammoth defenseman who’s won a Stanley Cup and plays with an undeniable edge. He’s tough, offensively gifted, and downright nasty all in one package. He’s a fantastic top 4 defenseman. His downside? He’s already 30 years old, which isn’t too old in the NHL world, but for a guy who plays as hard and physical as he does there’s a chance he breaks down and slows down earlier in his career than the average player. Currently he carries a $5.2 million cap hit for the upcoming season which is the last on his current deal. Next summer he’ll be a free agent and will command a fairly good raise.
Winnipeg has zero salary cap issues as they sit at a cool $12.5 million below the ceiling. However, the franchise is known to set their own “in-house” salary cap below the actual league max. And next summer they’ll have a lot of their upcoming studs to re-sign before they hit free agency. Andrew Ladd, Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry, Jacob Trouba, and surprise goaltender (former Bruin) Michael Hutchinson are key guys that will all need new deals in Winnipeg before the 2016-2017 season. Most of them will require significant raises, specifically Trouba and Scheifele. With Byfuglien being on the older side of the group listed above he may be the one Winnipeg is most comfortable parting with, which fuels the trade rumors.
So how would this deal work? The Bruins would have to move a defenseman either in a package to Winnipeg for Byfuglien or to a different team simply because they currently have a 9 defensemen log-jam of players you could consider NHL ready and/or serviceable. That’s too many on the books if you’re bringing in Byfuglien. A Bruins 1st round pick with a prospect, or 2nd round pick depending on the player packaged in the deal, would have to go back to Winnipeg. And the man that’d likely be sent to Winnipeg is Loui Eriksson. I’m one of the few that really like Loui’s game and like him in a Bruins uniform but being an upcoming unrestricted free agent making $4.2 million this coming season he’s the ideal candidate to be traded. He’d also return to the Western Conferences Central Division, where he played a long time before joining Boston.
This is a tough one to call. Defenseman like Byfuglien aren’t available very often. He would make a great addition to the Bruins and anchor the younger defensive core for years to come. And even though it’s an expensive deal that’d immediately shake up the more wide open Eastern Conference I’m not sure the Bruins are comfortable making the big move. The Bruins desperately need a top 4 defenseman and GM Don Sweeney is juggling that need with his focus on investing in youth and developing draft picks and prospects. The picks and prospects that may have to go to Winnipeg would counter that philosophy to a degree. But there are times when you’ve got to pull the trigger on a rare player with elite talent packaged in grit. And Byfuglien would be the guy to do it on.