West Coast Bias: Byfuglien shows no leadership

Watch as Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien delivers a brutal cross check to Rangers centre J. T. Miller, which Alain Vigneault called one of the most vicious of the year.

The Calgary Flames have survived the loss of their captain Mark Giordano, so why can’t Winnipeg win minus the suspended Dustin Byfuglien? I would argue that Giordano is more important to the Flames’ roster than Dustin Byfuglien is to Winnipeg’s, though that is a conversation that could take a pitcher of beer to settle.

The Jets face the next four games — starting today when they host Vancouver on Sportsnet — without their best defenceman, the big blast on their powerplay, and one of the few players in the NHL who is physically intimidated by no man.

Byfuglien received a four-game suspension for that cross-check on J.T. Miller, and almost no one — including his own head coach Paul Maurice — is voicing any dispute with the severity of the suspension.

“I have no problem with the suspension,” Maurice said after the ban was announced. “I have no problem with any of the suspensions that happen in the league. And that’s true of Evander Kane and Adam Lowry’s suspension earlier. The rub is that we will always disagree with the weight of those suspensions.

“Is it two (games)? Is it four? Is it 10? Where I’m going to disagree at times is which hit is worse. Is the (Antoine) Roussel hit (Feb. 12 to Adam McQuaid’s face) worse than that?”

In Vancouver recently, the same discussions took place when Tyler Toffoli pushed Alex Burrows from behind dangerously into the boards. Burrows played only one more shift that night, but played over 16:14 the very next night in Arizona, more than his seasonal average of 15:28. Toffoli was not suspended, but received five-and-a-game for the hit.

Ten days later Burrows hit an unsuspecting Paul Gaustad and received a five-minute interference penalty but no suspension. Gaustad is now suspected to be concussed and is expected not to play Saturday. Burrows was not suspended.

(Note: When I tweeted earlier this week that I suspected the NHL thought Gaustad had sold the call, that was wrong. His injury status proves that error. Even though the hit didn’t look injurious, I should know by now that with the speed of the game injuries happen. My mistake.)

It’s the perfect example of a week in the life of Stephane Quintal, the V.P. of the Department of Player Safety. Toffoli’s hit appeared far more dangerous, but Burrows wasn’t hurt long-term. Burrows hit looked relatively minor, but it appears Gaustad may miss some time. Byfuglien’s play was the clearest of all, and even though Miller wasn’t hurt and Byfuglien has no priors, he still got four games.

“(Rangers coach) Alain Vigneault wanted the electric chair,” exaggerated Maurice. “And I’ve got a lot more time for Dustin than that. So we will always be a little agitated by what we feel is the unfairness of it. From my point of view though, I think you can hand out heavier suspensions on all these events and the players will make the adjustment. The tough part is being consistent with it. And it is tough. It’s not an easy thing to get right.”

Funny, it was Byfuglien whose act of throwing Evander Kane’s track suit in the shower brought the situation to a head surrounding Kane and his issues inside the Jets dressing room. In a weird sort of way, that was leadership being shown by Byfuglien, who’d had enough of a divisive teammate and took a stand.

Now, with his club’s playoff hopes hanging perilously, Byfuglien shows no leadership at all, snapping on Miller and costing his team dearly. Of course, the Jets have said he won’t speak to the media until his suspension is done. Because delaying comment makes the issue go away (sarcasm alert).

I wonder if we’ll still be asking Big Buff about the playoffs when he deigns to explain himself to the fans?


Since this is West Coast Bias, let’s look at the games out West that you’ll want to circle in this, the final week of the regular season. It starts today:

Vancouver at Winnipeg, today: The Canucks close out a four-game road trip with their final away game of the season. With remaining home games against L.A., Arizona and Edmonton — and a four-point bulge on Calgary — the Canucks look great for second place in the Pacific. The Jets however, have lost three of their last four games and go to Minnesota and St. Louis next. This home game versus Vancouver is of major importance to the Jets, a team that once looked like a playoff lock. Not anymore.

St. Louis vs. Chicago, Sunday and Thursday: These two games – plus a soft Nashville schedule — will guarantee the Predators a Central Division regular season title. So the Blues and Blackhawks are basically playing for home-ice advantage in their first round series. Chicago won their Round 1 series in six games last year, while the Blues lost Round 1 to Los Angeles the year before. These two late season tilts will basically be playoff previews of perhaps the most compelling Round 1 series this spring.

Los Angeles at Calgary, Thursday: This could be a game where the loser misses the playoffs. It’s Game 81 for both clubs, and they are neck and neck for both third place in the Pacific and the second wildcard spot. Calgary has owned the season series winning three of four games, two of those victories coming in OT.

Calgary at Winnipeg, next Saturday: Last day of the season, two teams that entered this weekend’s play one point apart in the West. Calgary has won both meetings this season. The Jets could very well lace ‘em up a week from now against the Flames needing nothing less than a regulation win to make the postseason. Or vice versa. And it will be Byfuglien’s first game back from suspension. Oh, the drama.


Sven Baertschi had two goals on Wednesday in his last game with Utica before being called up by the Canucks, and has six goals in his last six AHL games. So he gets the call-up in time for today’s game against the Jets, just another layer of intrigue for Saturday’s tilt.

For me, the development of Baertschi will be fascinating to watch, as two very smart hockey men clearly had differing opinions on his value. Flames Brad Treliving gave him up for a second round pick at the trade deadline, thinking he was getting good value. Jim Benning thought the same thing from the other end of that deal. Two very astute hockey men evaluate the same player, with different conclusions.

I wonder which will turn out to be right on this one?


Meanwhile, Sam Bennett was called up on Friday, after his Kingston Frontenacs were swept in their Round 1 OHL series by North Bay. What a story the Flames have been this season, and just as it seems they may need an extra shot in the arm, Bennett miraculously becomes available to fly into Calgary.

Does anyone expect anything short of a goal in his first game? A hat trick maybe?

You can do as much math as you want when it comes to Calgary’s chances of duplicating this feat next season. But why not just enjoy what the Flames are doing now? Bennett came back from shoulder surgery and ripped up the OHL this year, with 11 goals and 24 points in 11 games. Next step, the NHL stretch run.

Like they’ve said in Calgary all winter, “Why not?”

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