Should Bruins Target Dustin Byfuglien If UFA Decides To Continue NHL Career?


Apr 20, 2020

We’re really not that far removed from a point in time when Dustin Byfuglien hitting the open market would prompt NHL general managers to hightail it to their owners and request they write a blank check.

Times have changed.

Byfuglien now is an unrestricted free agent after a contentious breakup with the Winnipeg Jets. In short, he’s walking away from $14 million over two seasons due to a dispute about the health of his ankle that resulted in him sitting out the entirety of the 2019-20 season so far.

On Saturday, shortly after news broke that Byfuglien and Winnipeg reached an agreement on a contract termination, SportsNet’s Chris Johnston speculated on “Hockey Central” that as many as 20 teams could be interested in the 35-year-old.

Whether or not the Boston Bruins could be among those kicking the tires remains to be seen, but surely the corner of the fan base that loves heavy-hitters who can contribute scoring will be clamoring for Don Sweeney to make a run at Byfuglien.

The truth of the matter, though, is that the idea of Byfuglien in Boston (or anywhere in the NHL) might be better than the reality.

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For one, he hasn’t played at all this season, appeared in 42 regular-season games the year prior and just turned 35. His weight is listed at 260 pounds, and through the entirety of his career he’s been knocked for more or less playing out of shape. Who knows what kind of shape he might be in after not playing all season while getting surgery for a high ankle sprain back in October.

And nobody knows where Byfuglien stands right now in pretty much any regard. We don’t know how healthy he is, we don’t know what level he’s capable of playing at after missing so much time, and we don’t even know if he plans to continue playing. That’s a lot of not-insignificant question marks.

But Byfuglien-to-Boston isn’t completely void of potential positives. He’s a right-shot defenseman, an area where the Bruins don’t have a ton of depth, especially if Kevan Miller doesn’t return next season. Byfuglien also would add some more toughness to Boston’s lineup and could end up forming a nice duo with a blueliner like Matt Grzelcyk.

Furthermore, Byfuglien does have some experience as a winger, and that versatility seems like something Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy would really value. (Remember last season when he said he thought about playing Joakim Nordstrom on defense?)

Like anything else, signing Byfuglien is tantalizing if he could be acquired as a low-cost flier, but that brings up one of the bigger problems. If Johnston’s report is accurate, and 20 teams line up to talk to Byfuglien and his agent Ben Hankinson, that can only mean one thing: a bidding war.

The salary cap likely will become tighter than many have budgeted for due to COVID-19 forcing the 2019-20 season to pause (and possibly be cancelled down the road). What happens if the price goes up on Byfuglien because GMs are bidding against each other, and he ends up with a deal that has not only term but also is more lucrative than originally expected?

That would have to be a non-starter for the Bruins, who are going to have to do some cap gymnastics in the first place with Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Jaroslav Halak and a handful of RFAs to take care of this offseason.

That said, Byfuglien is walking away from $14 million, so it can’t be said with any certainty that money would be the biggest factor in his decision. But you never know.

There’s a real possibility Byfuglien retires once the dust settles. But no one really knows what he’s going to do, or what a market for him might look like if he does play. If his market isn’t robust and the Bruins could get him on a cheap deal, then they should. But extending themselves beyond that for a 35-year-old who has a questionable ankle and hasn’t played in months just doesn’t seem prudent.

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Thumbnail photo via Bruce Fedyck/USA TODAY Sports Images
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