Tuesday night, in the heat of battle, Dustin Byfuglien lost his mind. In fact, that should be his defense on Thursday.
He can chalk it up to the heat of the moment. Fans who know him will say that it’s part of the personality of the biggest and toughest hombre in the Winnipeg Jets lineup. Hell, there are some out there who might even say Big Buff was just finishing his check.
Say what you will, it’s very likely that Byfuglien is going to be suspended for at least two games and possibly three or more On Thursday because of a nasty cross-check and that isn’t going to sit well with a coaching staff and a hockey team just barely holding on to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
On Tuesday night at MTS Centre, in the second period of the Jets match-up with the visiting New York Rangers, Byfuglien — who not only weighs about 265 pounds but is also as strong as a bear — cross-checked the Rangers J.T. Miller right on the back of the neck. While he was laying on the ice. There was no penalty called on the play (always remember, NHL referees don’t officiate hockey games, they manage them), but the video is ugly.
On Thursday, Byfuglien will have a telephone hearing with the NHL’s Senior Vice-President of Player Safety, former Winnipeg Jets defenseman Stephane Quintal, and that almost guarantees that Byfuglien will be suspended between two and five games.
Byfuglien could not have picked a worse time to lay a lickin’ on a smaller guy with his back to him.
“Violent, deliberate, he could have broken his neck,” said Rangers coach (and former Manitoba Moose head coach) Alain Vigneault. “It was one of the most vicious cross-checks I’ve seen this year.”
With the Jets holding on to a two-point lead over the tired-looking, but still defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, losing Byfuglien for more than a game could be devastating. That’s not to say the Jets can’t win without him. They’ve certainly won without him already this year. But as head coach Paul Maurice has made clear, at this stage of the season, it has to be all hands on deck.
If you look at the replay closely, as Quintal already has, there was absolutely no reason for Byfuglien to do what he did. Miller was on the ice trying to get up. He wasn’t in the play and he wasn’t a threat to be in the play. Byfuglien will be suspended, the only question is for how long.
The Jets have five games remaining this season. They play the Vancouver Canucks this Saturday at MTS Centre, then they go on a three-game road trip to Minnesota, St. Louis and Colorado and then they’ll finish the season against Calgary at home next Saturday, April 11. It was claimed by TSN nationally yesterday that, “These are undoubtedly the most important games the Jets have played since the team moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg in 2011.”
That might be true.
Working in Byfuglien’s favour is the fact he has never been suspended during his 10-year NHL career with Chicago, Atlanta, and Winnipeg. What is working against him is the video and the outcry from around the league.
Expect Byfuglien to be out for the games against Vancouver, and Minnesota and, maybe, St. Louis. Hopefully not more. Regardless of the suspension, it will be time for the rest of the Jets D to step up without their emotional leader.