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3 potential free-agent destinations for Byfuglien

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Veteran defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is officially a free agent after he and the Winnipeg Jets resolved their lengthy dispute by having his contract terminated Friday.

Whether or not the 35-year-old is looking to continue playing in the NHL remains to be seen. If he is, Byfuglien will likely garner a fair amount of interest from teams looking to bolster the back end for 2020-21. His fate could also depend on what teams are willing to pay him, especially with next season's salary cap up in the air due to revenue losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Assuming Byfuglien is healthy and wishes to continue his NHL career, and that any team signing him will exercise caution by giving him a one-year "show me" deal, here are a few spots where the blue-liner would fit best.

Montreal Canadiens

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The Canadiens need to add a difference-maker following another mediocre campaign, and a healthy Byfuglien could help the middling club go from a playoff hopeful to a team capable of a deep postseason run.

Here's an example of what the Habs' blue line could look like with Byfuglien in the mix:

Ben Chiarot Shea Weber
Brett Kulak Jeff Petry
Victor Mete Dustin Byfuglien

Alongside Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, Byfuglien would give the Canadiens an embarrassment of riches at one of the most coveted positions in the league: right defense. Each of those three is at least 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds, so the addition of Byfuglien could make that side of the ice an absolute nightmare for Montreal's opponents. With his strong offensive game and cannon of a shot, Byfuglien would also provide another much-needed weapon for the club's 22nd-ranked power play.

The Canadiens should be able to make things work financially, as each of the top four defensemen listed above is already under contract through next season. The only core players in need of new deals for 2020-21 are Victor Mete and forward Max Domi, who will both be restricted free agents this summer.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Rene Johnston / Toronto Star / Getty

Byfuglien would help the Maple Leafs improve their two most glaring weaknesses: defensive depth on the right side and a lack of physicality. Assuming Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci find new homes in free agency, the Leafs will also have a heightened need for a right shot on the blue line.

Here's a rough idea of how Toronto's defensive unit could stack up in 2020-21 if the team takes a chance on Big Buff:

Morgan Rielly Dustin Byfuglien
Travis Dermott Jake Muzzin
Rasmus Sandin Justin Holl

The 6-foot-5 rearguard would immediately become the Leafs' most intimidating presence, and though he isn't the fastest skater, he could also fit the club's offensive blueprint thanks to his savvy awareness in that end. Byfuglien should also appeal to Toronto's analytics-driven approach: His teams have owned the advantage in Corsi For rating, expected goals percentage, and high-danger scoring chances with Byfuglien on the ice at five-on-five during nearly every season of his career.

It's no secret the Leafs are tight against the salary cap, and with next season's upper limit still in question, it's currently impossible to determine whether Byfuglien would be a realistic option. Letting Barrie and Ceci walk would free up nearly $7 million in cap room, though, and a one-year deal for Byfuglien wouldn't threaten Toronto's ability to re-sign players beyond next season. The Leafs are in a plug-and-play situation as they look to surround a pricey core with cost-effective supplementary pieces. Byfuglien could be a fit - depending on his asking price.

St. Louis Blues

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Blues general manager Doug Armstrong had himself a busy week with a slew of signings. Most noteworthy was a four-year extension for defenseman Marco Scandella - a deal that's put pending unrestricted free agent Alex Pietrangelo's future with the team into further question.

St. Louis is also likely to re-sign restricted free-agent rearguard Vince Dunn, who's proven to be a valuable contributor at just 23 years of age. Unless the Blues move a core player with a high-end cap hit, keeping their captain doesn't seem realistic. But what if Byfuglien - who'd undoubtedly come far cheaper than Pietrangelo - could fill that spot on the right side for at least one season and help the Blues push for another Stanley Cup?

Let's assess what a Blues back end featuring Byfuglien might look like:

Vince Dunn Colton Parayko
Marco Scandella Dustin Byfuglien
Carl Gunnarsson Justin Faulk

The following graphs illustrate the respective on-ice impacts of Pietrangelo and Byfuglien since 2016.

Pietrangelo: 76 total games tracked from 2016-19

A3Z player comp tool: Corey Sznajder, CJ Turtoro

Byfuglien: 124 total games tracked from 2016-19

A3Z player comp tool: Corey Sznajder, CJ Turtoro

It's highly unlikely, of course, that Byfuglien ever again comes close to his previously elite level of play, but these numbers prove the veteran's game was recently on par with Pietrangelo's in many respects.

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