Two of the league’s best offensive defensemen go head-to-head in this week’s Cage Match.
Over the past three seasons only Erik Karlsson has scored more points as a defenseman than either Dustin Byfuglien or Keith Yandle. That should give you a hint that we are headed for a tight Cage Match. Off the top of my head I would say flip a coin and go home happy either way. These are elite defensemen so it is hard to go wrong. But you, the readers, demand satisfaction and it is my sworn duty to provide it. So let's get at 'er.
We will start with Byfuglien who has apparently decided to finally take an interest in off-season fitness after years of what I'll generously call carelessness. A svelte Byfuglien is phenomenon we have not seen before and there is no telling what the sum total of all the changes his new shape creates for him.
Byfuglien has made a career out of being a physical anomaly. The things he could do at his size made him an absolute terror. Byfuglien had the skill and skating ability to rush the puck end-to-end like a much smaller man but with his size he became an unstoppable force carrying the puck through the middle.
The Jets (technically the Thrashers) were able to harness this ability by moving him back to defense such that he was better situated to make these end-to-end rushes. The result was that Byfuglien blitzed the league for 41 points in the first 42 games of the 2010-11. His luck eventually ran out as the league caught on to him and his numbers fizzled down the stretch that season but Byfuglien has remained a hit on the Jets' blue line with 134 points in 190 games since joining the franchise.
Will Byfuglien continue to be the same anomaly if he is carrying less weight? He probably can as I am sure he has not lost a ton of strength with the weight loss but there is certainly the possibility that he will be less of a burden on his opponents now that he has lost sheer mass.
This will no doubt help Byfuglien's mobility but I have to re-iterate that a lot of what made Byfuglien so damned impressive was how mobile he was at his former size. The hope has to be that this move will add more than it removes but in terms of pure ability this is probably a neutral move. Whatever gains are made in mobility will be most helpful to Byfuglien when playing in the defensive zone since that's where he is required to use shorter bursts of speed the most.
One area where this weight loss could have an impact is health but I am just as split on the possible consequences in this regard. Byfuglien has never been injured all that much. To be sure he has missed 21 games over the past two seasons,