Will Byfuglien switch to defense?

A ton of newsy items from my trip to the Thrashers practice facility Thursday to watch voluntary workout. I won’t bury the lead.

According to general manager Rick Dudley, it is a very real possibility that newly acquired Dustin Byfuglien could play defense next season. Here is the part of my interview with the GM on the subject.

Q. It appears the defense is close to being set with several players, like Arturs Kulda, competing for final spot. Would that be a fair statement?

A. I think Kulda has a chance to challenge for regular duty – as do some other people. A lot of it depends on what we do with Dustin [Byfuglien]. If we decide to play him at defense, it’s a much more difficult defense to make. If we decide to play him at forward, there is some room. A lot of that will depend on the people. If we have a guy that looks pretty good – like I look at [Alexey] Zubarev, he’s a pretty talented guy; same thing with Kulda and Freddy Meyers is a guy that’s proven can play in the NHL. All those guys have a chance to play regularly. They just have to show it. If we made a decision that we didn’t need to play Byfuglien at defense, that would be a reason why.

Q. So you are saying that it’s a real possibility that Byfuglien will switch to defense?

A. It’s a position that he likes to play. It’s a position that I thought he was well on his way to being a top, top defenseman in Chicago. We moved him to forward because we had no size up front. Obviously, he proved to be a very effective forward but that doesn’t mean he’s not an effective defenseman. Ultimately, if [coach] Craig [Ramsay] says he doesn’t want to play him at defense, it’s unlikely he’ll play on defense. Truthfully, I want to see [him switch]. He can score. He can score 15 goals as a defenseman. He’s got one of the hardest shots in the game.

Q. Would he still be a part of the power play?

A. He could play point or if they wanted he could be a net presence. … He’s got size and soft hands. If you put him in front of the net, he’s pretty effective. I wouldn’t mind seeing him on the point.

Q. Do you know if he has a preference, forward or defenseman?

A. He likes to play defense.

Q. How would moving him to defense affect your forwards?

A. If we don’t do anything else [signing-wise], than it depends on what some of the people do who come in at forward, whether or not they grab us. If we did something else up front, it would make it more likely that we would play him, at least for the time being, on defense. … [Alexander] Burmistrov, [Patrice] Cormier, [Spencer] Machacek, [Anthony] Stewart, [Angelo] Esposito. If one, or all of these guys, steps up to the plate it makes it easier to move Buff to defense or give him that opportunity.

When Byfuglien arrives for training camp, I will get his view on the subject. Until then, discuss.

In other items:

*  Dudley said the team and restricted free agent Niclas Bergfors are not close on a new contract. “Once again, perhaps what we view the player and what they view the player may not be exactly the same,” Dudley said of his team’s view and the view of Bergfors and his agent. “The truth is, and I’ve kept to this, we will not do a deal where if there is a situation where we placed a player on waivers tomorrow, would he be claimed? If we are going to give him more money than that, than it’s silly. That’s been true of every player we’ve signed.”

* Dudley said that defenseman Kyle McLaren will be invited to training camp on a pro tryout. He also said there could be one more invitee.

* On the hunt for another 15-goal scorer – which could affect the move of Byfuglien – Dudley said this: “I would put it this way, if we don’t add a player, we are very happy to go in [to the season] the way we are. If there was a player who could score15-25 goals available, we’re interested. While we think we have that, it’s not a guarantee. It would have to be one of our younger players to step up to that level. We think it’s there but if you had a chance to make it a certainty, that’s a little different.”

* I checked in with Nik Antropov, who is skating after undergoing offseason hip surgery. He said he hopes to be ready by the start of training camp or shortly thereafter. I will save that conversation for a blog Friday.

* I’m starting to get the feeling that it wouldn’t be a big surprise if first-round pick Alexander Burmistrov makes the team. He weighed out Wednesday at 179 pounds. That’s just one pound under the weight Dudley said he would be comfortable seeing Burmistrov play at the NHL level.

* Quite a turnout at the voluntary workout. Here is my attendance card: Boris Valabik, Eric Boulton, Angelo Esposito, Alexander Burmistrov, Arturs Kulda, Byran Little, Evander Kane, Rich Peverely, Ondrej Pavelec, Andrey Zubarev, Ron Hainsey, Chris Thorburn, Tobias Enstrom, Nik Antropov, Chris Mason and Patrice Cormier.

58 comments Add your comment

Tom

August 26th, 2010
2:51 pm

It looks like there is enough competition to make the team that everyone who is close to the bubble is showing up for the workouts. That is a very healthy sign.

J(Z)

August 26th, 2010
2:58 pm

It Buff plays D I think we could easily trade some D to get that 15-20 goal scorer.

Smoothie

August 26th, 2010
3:01 pm

“The truth is, and I’ve kept to this, we will not do a deal where if there is a situation where we placed a player on waivers tomorrow, would he be claimed? If we are going to give him more money than that, than it’s silly. That’s been true of every player we’ve signed.”

Chris, first of all thanks for the great report. But did you ask him to clarify the statement above? I’m not sure I understand what he’s sayin. Is he saying that it’s silly to think that they’d low-ball a guy who would easily be snatched up off of waivers? Why does that even matter if you plan on him being a key component of your team for years to come?

Matt

August 26th, 2010
3:02 pm

Buff on point?!? He has hands of stone. What is Duds thinking??? Plant him in front a la Holmstrom and watch him rack up the points – if he feels up to it.

ChippersLoveChild

August 26th, 2010
3:08 pm

I don’t understand moving Buff to defense… I personally don’t think we have enough forwards as it is… and if we have Cormier, Burmistrov, Stewart, Espo, and Machacek all log regular ice time than there is no way we are going to the playoffs this season. I like that we have a real plan and are finally building for the future… but this fanbase also needs a playoff team. Quickly.

Midfield

August 26th, 2010
3:09 pm

Burmistrov is heading to Tacomac in search of this elusive pound. Things are looking up.

robert

August 26th, 2010
3:12 pm

If this team ends up with the stock of defense, I wonder if Anaheim would be willing to take a package of Bogosian + something for Bobby Ryan.

Chris Vivlamore

August 26th, 2010
3:18 pm

Smoothie: No followup necessary. His point is – and he’s made it several times this offseason – that Dudley will not overpay (in his mind) for a player. If a player has a contract that another team would not claim on waivers, then he has overpaid. That’s his view. It’s also his view on the value of a player. He gets to make those calls, he’s the GM. Good question.

Joe Friday

August 26th, 2010
3:18 pm

Smoothie, what he’s saying is that he’s not going to overpay Bergfors and sign him to a deal where if they put him on waivers, all the other GMs would say “no way, Jose. I’m not picking him up for that price”.

Now, that’s kind of silly as re-entry waivers is half price, so if you want a guy gone, you want him gone. What I hear here is Bergfors is asking for a ton, and the Spirit won’t pay it. It may be why there has not been any more moves. But didn’t they qualify Bergfors as an RFA to a 10% raise or whatever? Meaning, if they sign him to an extension, he still plays for us under a one year deal, right?

Big Buff back at defense? That is suprising, he’s a terrible skater and his value is as a big forward up front.

I hate to say this, but I’m having a Don Waddell moment here with these two quotes and the way he’s talking about both Bergfors and Buff. Bergfors as in more of the same old same old “cheap cheap” Waddell way and Buff as in “WTF is he thinking?”

Joe Friday

August 26th, 2010
3:20 pm

sorry, I mean if they don’t sign Bergfors to a new deal, he still plays this year under a one year contract at a 10% raise, right?

Russ

August 26th, 2010
3:21 pm

So, they are still interested in a proven 15-25 goal scorer, but they are considering moving a possible 25 goal forward back to D? And no, I don’t agree that Buff puts up 15 goals playing D all season. This “organization” seems to always take one step forward and two steps back.

Smoothie

August 26th, 2010
3:28 pm

C-Viv & Joe – thanks, I got it now. Was reading it wrong obviously, but I guess in my mind we can’t really overpay Bergfors at this point due to his potential. There’s no way he would get over $3.25 M on the open market, but even at $3 M, there’s a chance some GM would be inclined to take a chance on him if not on waivers, certainly upon re-entry.

No doubt the recent contract given to Hornqvist in NSH has thrown a wrench into our negotiations. But it’s not something to worry about at this point. Eventually, and this is assuming that Bergy is sincere in his desire to play in the NHL, Bergy’s agent will give in and accept an contract in the range of $2.25 – $2.4 M on avg.

As for Big Buff playing defense, I too am perplexed by this insistance on Dudley’s part that Buff prefers playing D. I don’t see how that would be the case. Wouldn’t someone with his size and recent success cashing in at the net want to play forward? Especially with a new team lacking proven top 6 scorers? This is his chance to shine. If he wants to be Toby’s new D-mate and protector, so be it, but then we better slap an offer sheet on James Neal ASAP!

[...] James Neal and Colorado still has to sign young forwards Chris Stewart and Peter Mueller. Atlanta isn’t close to signing winger Niclas Bergfors. And there are these players who don’t have a signature on a contract: Montreal goalie Carey [...]

Sara

August 26th, 2010
3:34 pm

Smoothie – Dudley’s mentioned this before. It’s not about low-balling, actually it’s the opposite. Essentially it’s “what would the other 29 GMs do” and if a contract is so stupid no other GM would touch it, then Dudley won’t do it either.

I’d like to see Bobby Ryan here but not at that price.

Smoothie

August 26th, 2010
3:39 pm

Yes thank you. C-Viv and Joe Friday have already enlightened me. Excuse me for having a brainfart. Dudley’s statement was hardly clear in its delivery…but anyway.

Does anyone think that Dudley may be blowing smoke when it comes to Buff playing D and simply trying to push his motivational buttons so he comes to camp ready to prove that he can be a bona fide top-flight scorer and power forward in this league? Obviously there are a lot of doubters out there still and perhaps Dudley, having known Dustin for a long time, is simply pushing his buttons with this posturing to our esteemed beat writer?

carl

August 26th, 2010
3:39 pm

Stupid move to put him on D, I feel people including Duds thinks are forwards are better then they are, without Buf are top 6 is, Antro, Bergfors, Little, Pevs, Kane, ?? prob Ladd. That is not a very strong top 6 at all. Decent size and grit, but compared to other teams top 6, very very weak. Mind you after that with Slater, Eager, Thorburn, Cormier, etc. we got a decent 3/4 lines. With Buf on forward it makes it much better….. Bergfors- Antro- Little
Kane- Pevs- Buf
Ladd- Slater- Petterson/ Burmistrov/ Stewart
Eager- Cormier- Thorburn
Boulton
Even with that It would be nice to add another top 6 such as Stempniak, and move Buf to the 3rd line creating what would prob be the best 3rd/4th lines in the league. KEEP HIM ON FORWARD!

kracker

August 26th, 2010
3:44 pm

I am looking at this as perhaps the agent “sticking up for his player”, etc. and a deal will be done by camp. They have their ideas, plus Hornqvist just signed in Nashville, wasn’t it? I guess that makes for a talking point though I don’t see much else in it than that.

But really, Dudley is in charge here. Bergy can see he has a heck of a chance to be a star top line player here as opposed to maybe being 2nd banana elsewhere. I don’t see Bergfors stepping down to play in Europe or the KLA. RFA…maybe but not too likely (really going out on a limb there, aren’t I? lol) OTOH, Bergfors is the big return in the Kovy trade so they have some leverage also. Sooo…the deal gets done, perhaps with a bit of noise on the blogs and in the press.

Zombie Steve

August 26th, 2010
3:45 pm

Glad to see Burmistrov is likely to get a chance to play; I’m anixous to see what this kid can do.

Chris Vivlamore

August 26th, 2010
3:46 pm

carl: One thing to think about – and I should have mentioned this above, but there was so much going on – Dudley thinks Thorburn has size, speed and skill to move up from fourth line. I will get to that in another blog.

Adam

August 26th, 2010
3:47 pm

To answer the question above about RFAs, a qualifying offer of a 10% raise merely retains the player’s rights and prevents them from otherwise becoming a UFA on July 1. There’s no requirement that the player actually agree to that amount, as it’s not a contract. It’s a starting point for negotiations. If no agreement is reached, the player can hold out.

Sage of Bluesland

August 26th, 2010
3:49 pm

We still need some help on O-ffense. I emailed Don Waddell some suggestions, but I haven’t received a reply yet.

Russ

August 26th, 2010
4:01 pm

With regards to Burmistrov making the team this year: I have said before and I’ll say again I am sick of our top picks starting right off in the NHL, it just shows what a joke this franchise is. Don’t get me wrong, if he earns a spot in training camp then I want him on the team. What I have a problem with is that after all these years we still don’t have the organizational depth to allow these young players to develop for a few years before being thrust into NHL roles. What is the soonest a Red Wing draft pick ever sees NHL ice? 2-3 years after being drafted? Hopefully we’ll see the Thrashers at that point some day.

kracker

August 26th, 2010
4:04 pm

Wooohooo! We get the Great Thorburn Forward Experiment again in camp. With Kovy gone there might be some room/chemistry for him on the 2nd/3rd line. These coaches keep seeing something there….

kracker

August 26th, 2010
4:06 pm

Russ: I think it more depends on where and who the Wings draft.

Jeff97

August 26th, 2010
4:06 pm

at Russ – but you have to remember that Detroit has not picked in the top 10 in the draft in many many years. Once you get out of the Top 5 – Top 10 players of the draft, you almost never see a 1st rounder make the NHL club the first year. That being said, I hope that this was the last year we pick in the top 10 for a long time.

Joe Friday

August 26th, 2010
4:13 pm

“Does anyone think that Dudley may be blowing smoke when it comes to Buff playing D and simply trying to push his motivational buttons so he comes to camp ready to prove that he can be a bona fide top-flight scorer and power forward in this league?”

No, as that’s worse than simply Dudley having a bad idea here. It’s bush league to do that in the press, especially before the guy has stepped one foot into our locker room. If he wanted to motivate him, you talk to the player and tell him the expectations, not throw it out in the press before he even gets to town for camp.

Darkhorse

August 26th, 2010
4:15 pm

Thorburn up from the forth? No way….has had his chances in the past playing on other lines as a fill in/lineup change and didn’t show he was more than forth line capable. Maaaaaaayyybe the up one to the checking line, but not enough O in my book.

Moving Buff back to D? So instead of currently looking for a 15-25 goal guy, we’ll need to find one or two players for about 40 goals? Not a great idea in my opinion, as you also lose the forward that plays mainly in front of the net. Now if Duds has an ace up his sleeve for a trade w/one or two legit top 6 forwards, maybe it will work. But you also give the young guys like Kulda, Postma, Valabik, and others no shot. Doesn’t make sense.

Barry

August 26th, 2010
4:33 pm

Dudley needs to do his job…getting the players. Let the coaches determine where those pieces fit. I thought the reason we got Dustin was to get some size up front with the forwards and Dustin is someone who will definately get in front of the goalie and play in the tough areas. We have too many Dmen already and others fighting for those last two spots.

Darren

August 26th, 2010
4:37 pm

I’m confused where Thorburn would play if he is supposed to move up… Whose spot would he take?

Chris

August 26th, 2010
4:40 pm

Joe Friday makes sense. When he traded for him, Duds said Buff has the potential to be a top power forward in the league. He wouldn’t move him to D if that were true.

Duds is exactly right about Bergfors. He should be paid whatever the most any other GM would pay. That’s how auction markets work – the second highest bidder sets the price, not the highest bidder.

Rhythmpenguin

August 26th, 2010
5:16 pm

If a player (Buff) gets to play the position he wants, he would probably be happier and be more likely to play better. I know players are suppose to play their best where ever they are put, but that’s not always the case. So, if Buff wants to play D then he may play much better.

Jack

August 26th, 2010
5:24 pm

On the Anaheim trade for Bobby Ryan. Not sure if its worth giving up Bogosian. However if Dusty plays defense, we could get rid of a couple dmen to get a scorer, ie Boris

Nate

August 26th, 2010
6:08 pm

Byfuglien on defense makes the assets traded away to Chicago look completely stupid on the part of the Thrashers. What a waste…I too smell too much Waddell/Spirit in this blog.

Jack

August 26th, 2010
6:14 pm

D on 5 on 5 and penalty kill. Forward on power plays. Honestly I have no doubt Ramsay will make the correct decision.

Brendan

August 26th, 2010
6:17 pm

Okay, I’m just gonna say it. “We can’t let Byfuglien play defense. That’s a mistake.” Allright, let me revise that. If our blueliners get thin, due to injuries, then yes, as a move made of necessity, bring in Big Buff to handle some d-man duty. But this team needs power forwards to win puck battles, on every line, on every shift. Taking Byfuglien away from that function … is a mistake. That’s how I see it.

So, Bergie doesn’t want to stay? Okay, ask him what team he’d like to play for, and at what salary. Then, we make a deal with that team, for the salary he wants, so long as we like the return. The Thrashers hold the cards. He’s still an RFA. When he realizes that, and signs his RFA contract, he’ll play for Atlanta for a 10% raise. But really, if the guy doesn’t want to stay, why FORCE him?, when you can find another GM out there to get proper return for him. I’d prefer to keep Bergfors, truthfully. But if Atlanta is not something he wants to be a part of … then I do think the best thing to do is part ways, for the proper return.

DWTOO

August 26th, 2010
6:20 pm

This will probably sort itself out in camp. If one of the younger players ie: Esposito, Burmistrov, Machacheck, etc. shows they’re ready then maybe Buf does go to D, or if we add a scorer thru a trade. Otherwise Buf stays at forward. Not a bad problem to have.

Barry

August 26th, 2010
6:31 pm

God I hope Thorburn isn’t expected to play top 6 line minutes. Ya he’s got size and bang bodies but he has hands of stone and doesn’t have the play making abilities and skills to play top 6 forward.

Jack

August 26th, 2010
7:09 pm

Thor will play line 3, dont think he will moce up to the first or second line. Once Berg realizes Thrashers are a winner, than he will stay. Its still early in the negotiations, hopefully he will soon.

GaVaHokie

August 26th, 2010
7:56 pm

They probably think Bergfors deserves less than Little, so I could see him getting low-balled. Little was a higher draft pick with a 30 goal season.

cousin Eddie

August 26th, 2010
10:19 pm

I like the article over on thrashingbirds website. Would love to see either C. Stewart or J. Neal given offer sheets and brought in to bolster the offense. I could live without a 1st and a 3rd round pick for either one of these two.

Smoothie

August 26th, 2010
11:14 pm

Cousin Eddie – a guy named j_barty_party thanks you! Yeah, that’s me, the Smoothinator. Don’t be a stranger and you can even post a comment anonymously if you’d like to chime in.

If anyone else is interested in the article, here ya go! Just food for thought during a long, miserable August week: http://thrashingbirds.blogspot.com/2010/08/should-gm-dudley-consider-offer-sheet.html

SomaAtl95

August 26th, 2010
11:22 pm

Duds should say to Bergie the following “Here is our offer. It is what it is” Sound familiar? I am sure there are players on other teams looking to go somewhere where they get more playing time and the chance to be a difference maker – we can always trade him for a player that wants to be here – people can snicker and laugh (or call me an idiot or sheep) but I know there are players in the NHL unhappy with their current role in their respective teams.

All Rick Dudley | The Vancouver Canucks

August 27th, 2010
12:36 am

[...] continued [...]

[...] Atlanta Journal-Constitution Analysis: Dudley said that defense is a position that Byfuglien “likes to play.” Either way, expect new Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay to use Byfuglien on the power play. Buff’s value would receive a significant boost if in fact he becomes D-eligible this season. [...]

[...] Atlanta Journal-Constitution Analysis: Bergfors was the main piece in return in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, so don’t expect the Thrashers to wait much longer to sign him. He should be a top-6 forward with sleeper potential this season, but keep an eye on this situation if you do draft him. [...]

[...] – According to Rick Dudley, it appears the team is undecided to whether Dustin Byfuglien will play forward or defense next season.   This, and it’s potential impact on players such as Arturs Kulda, Alex Burmistrov, and Freddy Meyer are discussed in Dudley’s interview with Chris Vivlamore [...]

The Real Thrash

August 27th, 2010
7:18 am

It would really be great if we had leadershp that built our team based upon talent and not just pinching pennies.
Players in the NHL look at this and run away!

[...] of the more interesting things that came from Chris Vivlamore’s recent chat with Rick Dudley was the suggestion that Dustin Byfuglien could wind up playing [...]

ChippersLoveChild

August 27th, 2010
8:49 am

If this were a few years ago and we had guys like Kovy, Savard, and Hossa among others than I would completely understand moving a guy like Buff to d because we were paper thin there, but not with this team. Park Buff in front of the net and let him do his thing.

Flames

August 27th, 2010
8:55 am

Something just doesn’t smell right with this story….I smell at trade coming…..This story shows that we have way to many D-men, and Buff wants to play defense? Bergfors wants to much money! He just might be part of packaged in a trade. Something is up! I’ll get back with you on this…