The Winnipeg Jets and long-time defenseman Dustin Byfuglien are reportedly headed towards a mutual contract termination before the trade deadline.
Dustin Byfuglien’s last game in a Winnipeg Jets uniform came on April 20, 2019. It was Game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the eventual champion, the St. Louis Blues. Byfuglien had two points, a goal and an assist, in what will likely be his last game for the franchise after a tumultuous last nine months.
On Monday, TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported that Byfuglien and the Jets were headed towards a mutual contract termination in the coming days, freeing both parties from his five-year, $38 million contract signed back in 2016. The reported split has been a long-time coming for the Jets and Byfuglien, but a contract termination is a slight surprise.
In September 2019, Byfuglien was given an indefinite leave of absence from the team, sparking concerns about the 34-year-old defenseman. The Jets had an already decimated blue line entering the 2019-20 season — with losing Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers via trade or free agency — and Byfuglien’s sudden absence put a major hole in Winnipeg’s back end.
The Jets then suspended Byfuglien from the team without pay after reports surfaced that the defenseman was contemplating retirement and that he failed to show up for training camp. In October, Byfuglien underwent surgery for a high-ankle sprain that would keep him out of the Jets’ lineup until the new year, a surprise considering the Jets cleared him during their 2018-19 season-ending physical.
Another wrinkle was added in November when the NHL’s Player Association filed a grievance against Jets on behalf of the defenseman for his suspension.
Many aspects of the saga between Byfuglien and the Jets are still unclear, but the fact remains that this entire case has been messy on all sides as we come to a resolution. Byfuglien’s sudden leave of absence put the Jets in a bind this year, not only costing them their best defenseman but leaving the team without a plan so close to the start of the season.
Byfuglien has been with the Jets franchise for nine seasons, dating back to his time with the Atlanta Thrashers before the team moved to Winnipeg in the 2011-12 season. The defenseman was relied upon as the Jets’ ice time leader for all but three of his seasons with the Jets, averaging 24 minutes a game in Winnipeg.
For many, Byfuglien was the face of the Jets franchise since the team moved to Winnipeg. In 609 games as a member of the franchise, Byfuglien had 416 points and made a name for himself with his bone shattering hard hits that earned him the nickname Big Buff.
To see a long-time franchise great like Byfuglien mired in this mess is unfortunate, after how successful his career was with Winnipeg. It’s unclear as of Monday if Byfuglien will retire from the game of hockey itself, but the process of removing him from the Jets has been expedited.
A mutual contract termination would mean Byfuglien would lose the $8 million he was set to make this season, along with the $6 million he would have made next year. Byfuglien would then hit the market as an unrestricted free agent, should he chose not to retire, and become available to be signed by another team this season or in the summer once free agency begins.
As for the Jets, they’ll gain $7.6 million in cap space from Byfuglien’s contract, giving them the ability to go after an asset or two before the trade deadline ends on Feb. 24. Winnipeg is on the playoff bubble, meaning they could very well be active at the deadline in order to get a few pieces to bolster either their defense or add to their top-heavy offense.
In any case, the end is nigh for Byfuglien’s time in Winnipeg. An unfortunate bookend to an otherwise bright partnership for an all-time franchise great.
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