- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Well, well, Big Buff back up front, eh?
At least for now, anyway.
Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel is dealing with injuries and a slumping squad, so this is his way to switch things up. Byfuglien will be on the top line with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little for Saturday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"We've got some guys banged up, so does everybody, but we've also got guys who haven't got on the scoreboard for quite some time," Noel told ESPN.com on Friday. "My group is kind of stuck to a certain degree. I'm just trying to unclog this thing.
"The other thing is he’s an impact player who's hard to handle in a lot of areas; he can help us there. It's a change that might be a breath of fresh air. Will it last long? I don't know. We'll take it game by game for now and see where it goes."
Byfuglien will remain on the point on the power play, so the switch is for even strength purposes. Noel tried this very briefly midgame last season.
"We went down this road last year just for a little bit, the end of a period in one game and the end of a period in another game as well. ... It really hasn't been revisited until now," Noel said. "I had a conversation with him a couple of days ago just about some things and his play, this and that, and this came up."
Byfuglien hasn't been a full-time forward since he was so effective at it in the spring of 2010, helping the Blackhawks win the Cup. He switched to defense once traded to Atlanta that summer, in part because he made it clear that’s where he felt more natural and where he prefers playing.
Oh, but was he ever good up front in the spring of 2010.
"He was hard to handle that whole playoff. He scored 11 goals [in 22 playoff games], and he was a factor in helping them win," Noel said. "But he hasn’t done it much since then. So we'll see where this goes."
Quite frankly, with the Jets on a four-game losing streak in the midst of a season that has them last in the Central Division, why not try something like this? What is there to lose?
It's not like Byfuglien was having a stellar defensive season on the blue line, as underlined by his minus-16 rating, worst on the Jets.
Heck, if anything, it might take the attention away from the constant frustration and anger seeping into a group that has been losing too many games. It can be a deflective measure.
"That's not why I'm doing it. It's just about trying to win games," Noel said. "But if it happens to bring us a breath of fresh air, fine. But it's really about trying to change things."
"Once in a while you need to break them up," Noel said of the Ladd-Little-Wheeler line. "I'm not thinking they won't be back together because they've had really good chemistry.
"But for now, we're just trying to get some things going with our whole group."
Gagner on market?
Front-office sources from other teams around the league confirm that center Sam Gagner is available in Edmonton.
He's a better player, to be sure, than what he's shown this season, after a broken jaw in preseason set him back. But he has a contract that makes you blink a little: two more years after this season with a $4.8 million cap hit. His salary actually jumps to $5 million next season and in the final year.
Perhaps more troublesome is the early asking price that the Oilers are apparently looking for.
"They want a top-four D or a power forward. Not sure they can get that for Gagner," said one front-office source. "If they want that, maybe they need to put one of the other kids on the block."
I certainly don't blame Oilers GM Craig MacTavish for possibly trying to move Gagner or another forward from his top-nine group. That's where his strength is, and he's got holes everywhere else. More importantly, it's been a nightmare season, and he can't just sit on his hands and wait out the season without trying to shake things up.
All the power to him if he can net what he wants for Gagner.
Tim Murray in Buffalo
It's going to be interesting how new Sabres GM Tim Murray proceeds on the coaching front in Buffalo.
No doubt his new boss Pat LaFontaine would have hinted strongly to Murray that he’s very fond of interim head coach Ted Nolan.
And certainly I think Murray will give the Nolan experiment a fair shake.
But it’s hard not to think that in the back of his mind he doesn’t have thoughts of Luke Richardson joining him from AHL Binghamton, where the two have had a strong relationship the past few years.
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance