RFA Report will be a once-a-week column in which we focus on impending RFAs and their fantasy values. Consider these pieces one for everybody– whether you like offer sheets, re-signings, potential trades or actually play in a fantasy league that counts real-life salaries. While we pride ourselves in reporting and analyzing the facts we intend to stay within out normal bounds while respecting the fact that everybody needs a little speculation sometimes.
Nobody really knew what to expect from last year’s playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien. After scoring 11 goals in 22 playoff games including several game winning goals, the versatile skater was coming to a new team with his same old contract and plenty of hype. We knew that bringing him to the Atlants Thrashers was a salary dump as the Chicago Blackhawks needed necessary cap space however his production and success was simply unpredictable.
Right before the season began head coach Craig Ramsey announced he would use Byfuglien more on defense than forward which created a large amount of press and controversy. Yes, as a right wing he was a force to be reckoned with but the Thrashers wanted to keep his thundering shot on the blue line. The result was the best offensive defenseman in the League– according to goals, shots and points– to date.
In fact, if Byfuglien keeps up this torrid pace, he could finish with 27 goals and 80 points which are totals he certainly cannot and will not sustain. Those 80 points would be higher than any defenseman scored last year meaning he would potentially be in the same range as Mike Green, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith. His offensive numbers are up there with the elite and more importantly he passes my colleague Ryan Campbell’s theory on shooting percentage.
Statistically he appears poised to continue his ridiculous pace. Furthermore, his career shooting percentage of .086 is actually higher than his current .083. Kent Wilson of Houses of the Hockey points out that this certain percentage is way too high from a defenseman, ignoring his career averages so we can leave it to the reader to actually decide; the likely outcome is somewhere in between.
Getting back to the task at hand Byfuglien definitely is due for a raise. If he is worth 3 million per season as a 19 goal scorer then he is certainly due for better pay as he looks at the 30 goal plateau from once again the blue line. His teammate Ron Hainsey makes 5 million and he will surpass him in every statistical category while proving to the Thrashers that he can lead the back end. His current salary would not even rank him in the top 50 highest paid defensemen so his raise is not only due but it is clearly imminent.
Going back to our earlier point, his production should remain relatively high as he will at the very least hit 50 points for the first time in his career. His current 33 points in 34 games are actually only three points away from career-highs so no matter how much he may fade this season will be viewed as a step forward.
As a fantasy owner you can take a look at the above and smile. Wilson pointed out in his piece that Byfuglien sees almost no time against top lines like Keith or a Nicklas Lidstrom which bodes even better for his ability to maintain a high tempo. Yes, he needs to go in the corners and play a powerful game but he will rarely be a barricade from powerful point shots, taking a rest while watching his team shorthanded.
We like him in fantasy and the Thrashers have to be happy with their asset. An educated guess would put his next contract somewhere in the 5 million arena which also depends on if he will forgo any UFA time. Right now he has one year left as an RFA and may very well choose to pack his bags for a city that actually acknowledges hockey.