Claude Noel has quite a few problems on his hands. His top line can barely get a shot on goal, his defense has been performing awfully. What's a Jets coach to do?
Well, try to fix the first problem and hope that you're fixing the second, of course!
Dustin Byfuglien will be moved to forward for tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Where will he play? Top line, next to Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd. The non-Olympian has bumped an Olympian down the depth chart. As a friendly reminder, this is why Buff didn't make Team USA…
"You know I'm not a big Byfuglien guy," Burke notes. But he seems to have committed himself to being in better shape and improving his game. "And no one can pound the puck like him," he adds.
The group's Man On The Prairie, Don Waddell, warns that early on Byfuglien has struggled.
Yes, he's an offensive presence but, "If he's going to have to play minutes defensively, boy, right now he's a high-risk guy," Waddell says.
Granted, yes, one of those quotes comes from Don Waddell, but he and Burke were not the only ones on the selection committee to raise those questions. Buff isn't the strongest defenseman. You can argue that it's not his only job – that he's a big shot from the point that scores – but defense should be some part of his job. Regardless of if you believe in plus/minus or not, having a team-worst -16 while you're on the top defensive pairing is not good.
But oh, the points! He's tied with Little for the lead with 34 (10 goals, 14 assists). The Jets' offense is not exactly high octane. They only have two 30 point scorers, but at least they're not Nashville, who has none, right? Oh, the Preds are still above them in the standings? Interesting.
Buff's move to offense will probably create more chances for Little and Ladd. He has 154 shots on goal, after all. The only player with more is Evander Kane, who has 165. But what will it do to the Jets' defense? The defense isn't as God-awful as, say, Calgary's or Edmonton's – it only has a -14 goal differential, not a -42 or a -41. But the defensive corps isn't thick enough to replace Byfuglien on the top pairing. Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom have some playing experience together, but haven't played well together this year. Jacob Trouba is a fine rookie defenseman and has handled second-pairing minutes like a champ. Mark Stuart will be his defensive partner tonight, and that hasn't gone well.
Does this fix the issues? Buff's turnover rate is not the best. He hasn't been effective on the blue line. You can argue that this is because he's out there against other teams' top players, but so are lots of other top pairing defensemen who don't cough the puck up. The top line is slumping and the team needs a spark. I'm sure that the Blue Jackets aren't looking forward to having Buff playing forward.
It doesn't fix anything permanently, but at this point in the season, why not throw something at the wall and see what sticks? When your team is in last place in the Central Division, what is there to lose?