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The Best the Jets Knew

Following the Jets loss in the Western Conference Final in 2018, the Winnipeg Jets lost the best top four they ever had through a slow dismantling of talent.

Dallas Stars v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Back in September 2008 the Winnipeg Blue Bombers traded running back Charles Roberts to the BC (never called British Columbia) Lions. The player known as Blink was here today and gone tomorrow. Esteemed sports writer Randy Turner ended his column about Roberts like this “blink and you miss him; blink and he’s gone”. The ending was about not only how fast Roberts could run, but also how fast the trade happened.

When Dustin Byfuglien retired it was one of the oddest sagas in Winnipeg Jets history and also one that perfectly explained Byfuglien to anyone who didn’t seem to get him. Byfuglien was someone who seemed to view hockey as a job. He was very good at it, but he also put up with a lot of shit when he played it. See Byfuglien was unique. He was bigger than most hockey players and had a style that is still unique to him. He was a mix of physicality and skill on defence that could make a big mistake and fix it almost immediately. When he was at his best, he played with Toby Enstrom in a dominant and odd couple pairing. Byfuglien with the physical, bold offensive style, and Enstrom with his quiet style based on using his brain because there was no size with him.

Enstrom’s story in the NHL ended a season earlier than Byfuglien’s, but it was in some ways an even odder end. Enstrom seemed to struggle to stay healthy in the NHL. Maybe it was his small stature and willingness to take a hit to make a play, but he rarely found himself able to play a full season. This was a shame because Enstrom was one of those deft players. He was small and maybe not the most offensive guy, but he was skilled in a way that complimented Byfuglien perfectly. They were like two peas in a pod. Enstrom’s time with the Jets ended with him being a healthy scratch in an elimination game. It was a brutal end for a player that had given a lot to the franchise since his rookie season in Atlanta.

Byfuglien’s time in Winnipeg also ended in a rather quiet way: he injured his ankle one game and never played again. There were allegedly problems with the healing process which anyone who has injured their ankle would completely believe. Ankles are finicky buggers and they suck. Byfuglien ended up retiring after being suspended by the team for not showing up at training camp. It was a quiet, weird ending to one of the most interesting player’s career. In some ways it was appropriate for him. While Byfuglien was a personality on the ice, he was also a quiet man off the ice. He was Big Buff on the ice; a man who could awaken a team with a hit, but also a man who just wanted to go fishing in his down time.

Both Enstrom and then Byfuglien left holes in the Jets defence. They have struggled to fill those holes, left in back to back seasons, ever since. They were unique in their playing styles and how well they meshed. They were unique in their stories: two eighth round picks, one a forward for the longest time, The two of them came together to form a truly special pairing for the Jets. And then with the blink of an eye, they were both gone.

The Jets are still looking to fill their shoes. They have Josh Morrissey living up to the promise he showed in his rookie season when him and Jacob Trouba formed a formidable second pairing behind the aforementioned Enstrom and Byfuglien. The Jets are still searching for a top four that good, that skilled, that talented. They might never find it again. Blink and you miss it, blink and it’s gone indeed.