The Double-Edged Sword of Dustin Byfuglien

Question to Blackhawks fans: still missing Dustin Byfuglien?

The “great” Big Buff, who sprinted into Norris Trophy consideration in November, has started to remind those of us that called him “streaky” and “inconsistent” last summer why those words came to mind.

But upon further inspection, he’s been building a bi-polar resume all year.

In the 2011 calendar year, Byfuglien has only one goal and is minus-one in eight games; the Thrashers have struggled without his offensive contributions, losing five of the eight games. Byfuglien has not registered a point in the last seven Thrashers games, and is minus-three in that stretch.

Statistics show that the Thrashers, who have increased their dependence on Byfuglien as the season has progressed, have struggled to win games when Byfuglien doesn’t show up.

In the Thrashers 23 wins, Byfuglien has 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) and is plus-20 with 14 penalty minutes.

In the Thrashers 26 losses, Byfuglien has only 12 points (five goals, seven assists) and is minus-15, with 33 penalty minutes.

While many fans like to argue that Jack Skille, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg haven’t replaced Byfuglien’s production, or that the Hawks would be better with Byfuglien skating on the blue line than Nick Boynton or Jassen Cullimore, none of those scenarios are reality.

Reality last summer was simple: it had to be either Byfuglien or Patrick Sharp that was traded. And the Blackhawks wisely chose Sharp.

When comparing Sharp’s production this year to Byfuglien, he has been much more consistently productive throughout the year.

In the Blackhawks 25 wins, Sharp has 29 points (19 goals, 10 assists) and he is plus-14, with a surprising 16 penalty minutes.

In the Blackhawks 21 losses, Sharp has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) and is minus-21, but has been hit with only six penalty minutes.

However, while Byfuglien has disappeared since the calendar rolled over, Sharp has remained a force on the scoresheet. In eight January games, Sharp has six points (four goals, two assists) and is plus-two.

More importantly, Sharp’s play at center has been crucial to the Blackhawks success this year. He is winning 48.3 percent of his faceoffs this year and has produced all year despite the revolving game of musical chairs at the two other forward positions he’s skated with this season. Injuries have forced Sharp to play next to almost every forward on the Blackhawks roster this year.

When Chicago GM Stan Bowman had to choose between the potential of Byfuglien and the known, consistent commodity of Sharp, he opted to go with the older of the two. As the season has continued, the skaters are proving that he made the right choice.

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