Blackhawks Confidential

Byfuglien confuses Blackhawks fans with winning drive: how dare the slacker be good

buffrangers.jpgReally good teams have one common thread. They all have players that fans love to hate for underachieving.

If only this, if only that. Damn slackers. These role players eagerly disappear into the mass misery on bad teams like the Bears and the Bulls, where boredom has persuaded probably a few fans to seek other pursuits this winter, maybe discovering a sport that's been hidden in the closet for years along with the mittens and scarfs.

Welcome to CSI Chicago, because with the Blackhawks, the fringes are watched and debated and analyzed and put under the microscope as much as the core, because everything has a brighter illumination when success is within reach and a gleaming pot of gold can be seen as a living and breathing presence at the end of the rainbow.

Expectations are so elevated that everyone on the team from top to bottom is held to a much higher standard. Fans think the path to a championship would be so much easier if so-and-so simply played more consistently and with more dedication to his job and with more smarts. I can't believe the dumb bunny is such a silly cluck.

Or as The Second City hockey blog pointed out Thursday, Dustin Byfuglien proved to us again why that site (among many others, including this one) has criticized him so much. That damn guy went and scored the overtime game winner Wednesday night to beat New York 2-1 and prove once again he should be better than he is more often.

How dare he show us how good he can be when we know he is going to be bad again soon. Maybe Friday night in Buffalo. The nerve of the guy to don a hero's costume we consider a fake to set us up for future disappointment. Stop toying with us, some fans want to shout. Quit the goal scoring. It confuses us.

Who's the real Dustin Byfuglien? Not that guy who made an unreal play, is it? Nah! Can't be.

Byfuglien can't win for losing. Or maybe we should change that to Bufyglien can't win for winning.

Let's run down that list of right wing leaders in game winners and you will find perception knocked upside down. Troy Brouwer has 3, 1 shy of NHL right-wing leader Teemu Selanne. Then comes Byfuglien just a short way down in the next pile with 2.

While Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa "win" games, Brouwer and Byfuglien have the unexpected numbers that tell a different story. As with all elite clubs, so-called fringe players make the unit well-rounded by emerging out of the shadows frequently enough to make a difference and raise questions about why they can't assert themselves more often.

The common wisdom is that Byfuglien is playing his final season in Chicago. With the need to reduce salary cap space, the consensus is that Byfuglien and his $3 million salary are going to be sent packing to another team. No one is considered more expendable by a certain segment of fans.

While that probably is true, do you think you might miss Byfuglien when he's gone? He can be infuriating with his tendency to just go along to get along on the ice, sometimes seeming to be more an observer than a participant in the action.

When Byfuglien decides to take over as he did Wednesday in overtime and grab the puck with a purpose and surprise the Rangers defense with a burst of rare energy and finish the shocking foray of stick-handling with a picture-perfect shot, some fans have two reactions.

The first is: what the hell just happened there? The second is: why the hell can't he show a strong instinctive nose like that on a regular basis?

The answer is that Byfuglien is a Madison Street Irregular. Unlike Sherlock Holmes and his Baker Street Irregulars, Byfuglien can go sniffing down the wrong alley and get completely off the scent, looking lost and forlorn and hopeless.

Then again, he can stick his butt in the crease and ruffle goalies and create havoc with a physical presence that appears briefly and then fades away seconds later like a wandering spectre, haunting fans from night to night with his ghostly gifts.

Do we ask too much of Byfuglien? After all, his three power-play goals give him one more than Patrick Sharp, who received no reward beyond winning for a strong personal effort against the Rangers.

With 9 goals already, Byfuglien is 6 shy of last season's total of 15 in 77 games and 10 short from his 19 in 67 games for 2007-08. With 11 points, Byfuglien should score around 30-something points again. Not great, but not everybody is going to be great or everyone would get a 13-year contract and keep those NHL investigators busy for decades.

The question becomes whether the good Byfuglien outweighs the bad Byfuglien enough times that people should cut him a break for not being an impact player every game?

Byfuglien is versatile enough to play on a lot of lines and in quite a few situations. The tools are there, even if the toolbox occasionally falls off the back of the truck and just lays there some games.

If the Hawks have to trade Byfuglien, they will have to go out and find someone like him as a cheaper replacement. Will that be easier said than done? Will the day come when Blackhawk fans wish they had Byfuglien to kick around again and not so-and-so?

Title teams are not comprised only of the Kanes and Keiths and Toews and Hossas. You need helpmates such as Byfuglien, who pop up when you least expect them.

Maybe Byfuglien wouldn't be as good on another team with less talent. Maybe the Blackhawks wouldn't be as good without him. It's tit for tat that makes the world go round.

Something to keep in mind the next time you want to drive a stake in Byfuglien's heart just to see if he's awake. Patience, my friends. His next game winner can't be too far away.

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14 Comments

FearlessFreep said:

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I was at that game last night. Literally, just when Buff pulled in that loose puck and started steamrolling towards Lundqvist, I believe my the quote that left my lips was "Go Byfuglien, you piece of SHIIITT!" To my astonishment, he did go, blowing by Matt Gilroy (miracle of miracles) and then tucking home the winner through King Henrik's five hole (if this wasn't a hockey blog, I'm sure that would be considered inappropriate).

Byfuglien? Really?

I'm the first one to say that he's good as gone, perhaps before the season is out. His trade value is high, and for all he showed last night, Brouwer is a better value and can do much of what Big Buff does. That does not mean that I think the Hawks won't miss him - but with a cap in place, the reality is a team needs to allocate resources to players who can and will produce consistently. I have nightmares that Big Buff in another sweater will torment the Hawks, but unless Stan the Man can use smoke and mirrors to work with a cap, players like Byfuglien, Sharp, Versteeg, and Barker are the guys who are most likely to go given their contract status and value.

BTW, read the Blueshirt blog and found the quote of the night there: "Lundqvist is more important to the Rangers than boobs are to a Hooters waitress."

Mike Kiley said:

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I'm sure the shithead appreciates your support, Freep. Cheer on.

Dave Morris said:

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Doctor Kiley, how dare you postulate in such sensible fashion. Don't you know that some fans would rather love to hate than love to love?

Only Donna Summer does that, and we don't know if she's a hockey fan.

We do know, though, that guys like Big Buff do their stuff when you least expect it.

The Rangers certainly didn't expect it.

Oh well, if Les Blaque Hawques manage to climb Mount Stanley and plant the banner of Hawk Nation at the summit, there'll still be those who would rather look at their half empty glass, when all they need to do is actually buy a round once in a while.

Cheers.

SouthSideHawkMan said:

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First let me start by saying GO HAWKS! As for Byfuglien, that was a great individual effort. Now lets move his 3 million dollar salary. Actually if Bowman can move Campbell instead I'd be fine with that. Did Campbell even play against the Rangers?

Mike Kiley said:

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Only Soupy Sales died this year. Soupy Campbell slurps on.

AZBLACKHAWK said:

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Will the real Buff please stand up. Me, I like the guy. The beauty of him in my opinion is that he turns it on when he needs to, like the playoffs last year or against the Rangers. We have Kaner , Hossa and the rest who supply a lot of the game winners and game turning plays, but some nights those guys for whatever reason do not get it done, it is then that Buff comes to the front. He may make a bit to much salary and that may be something Mr. Tallon can answer for, but he is not paid at the level of our starts and therefore we should only expect that he will be in the trenches night in and night out and occasionally he will shine. If we do see him as a hawk for the last time this season I think we will miss him, but who am I.

Mike Kiley said:

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Good to see you come to Blackhawks Confidential for existential therapy. Who Am I? should be the subtitle of this blog. By the way, I like to hear from Byfuglien supporters. There are always two sides to lightning-rod characters. If only Buff would ask Who Am I?

cubby23(eric) said:

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He's got a ton of talent but I think it was telling in his post-game comments that he saw tired Ranger players out on the ice, knew it was 4-on-4, and decided to "take a chance." Would he have done that if it were regulation and 5-on-5?

I only wish he was willing to be the kind of consistent "presence" that he's capable of being. He could, if he wanted to, be one of the harder forwards in the league to play against near the crease because of his size and shooting ability.

ccav23 said:

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I think Buff is a solid player, and hope he is with the team through his 2011 contract. When he first came up he was switched from a D-man to a winger because of injuries. I think since being a full time winger he has produced. I think he is an asset, a big body in front of the net, and apparently has a little bit of speed. Plus he is tied with Kane and Versteeg for the most goals. Overpaid? Maybe, but in the long run I think we would be hurting without him. I would like to see him stick around.

Mike Kiley said:

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I miss him already. How can anyone be washed up at, what, 24?

cubby23(eric) said:

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If you watched the Buffalo game you saw Tyler Myers on the Sabre blueline. That guy reminds me of Buff in some ways. Now, will Buffalo tinker with him and make him change positions the way the Hawks did with Buff when Savvy took over?

There were stretches where it looked like Buff didn't know where he should always be positionally last year. If you look at his numbers he's overpaid, but more importantly do his 30+ pts. (per season) at $3 million plus per year equate with his potential and flashes of brilliance?

Where I thought he'd earn his keep was on the pp, but for whatever reason (and I realize he has a decent shot), he plays the pt. a lot on it instead of parking himself at the doorstep of the opposing goalie.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Is there anyone on this team right now who would not be missed? Probably not, but the reality is that they can't keep all of them. Buff seemingly has the ability to make himself invaluable to the team but for whatever reason doesn't do it often enough. I'd like to see him stay as well, but keeping him may be hard to justify.

fattybeef said:

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Um need to win now so clearly unloading 20+ goals (which he will score, easily) for the sake of the cap before the cap has been set is stupid. He also ruins Roberto's world which will be essential for the playoffs.

Who are you going to put on the ice... Tomas Kopetky? Hendry and Bickle have been playing well but are you going to entrust the rest of the season to guys who come in and basically play off emotion becuase they dont have to perform every day at that level? Are you going to experiment with Skille again? What if someone else goes down with an injury? Were gonna need bodies.

If Buff could play on the penalty kill I would say absolutely never trade him. He is a converted defender who is a defensive liability... How does that work? He frustrates the hell out of me but we dont have a better option with both Burish and Bolland out of the lineup and should only be traded if Sharpy or Tazer go down with injuries and we get desperate for a center.

ccav23 said:

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I know it is off topic, but I wold much rather see the Hawks move Campbell and resign Seabrook. Keith and Seabrook is as solid of a defensive pairing as any in the league. But that Campbell contract is going to hurt us in the long run.

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