SAN JOSE — The Dustin Byfuglien saga has taken another surprising twist.
The 34-year-old defenceman had ankle surgery last week in Minnesota as he remains suspended without pay for not reporting to the Winnipeg Jets during training camp.
“We were aware he was contemplating having surgery but were not directly involved in his decision-making process,” a team spokesman told the Free Press on Wednesday night.
Byfuglien’s recovery is expected to take at least two months, although whether a return to hockey is in his future is still a mystery.
Byfuglien has not spoken publicly about his situation. To date, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice have said they were giving Byfuglien all the time and space he needs to make a decision.
Another puzzling element to this is the question of why Byfuglien didn’t come to camp, have medical staff deem his wonky ankle needed further medical attention and then place him on the injured list, which would have allowed him to continue getting paid.
By opting to stay away from the club to mull over potential retirement, Byfuglien isn’t collecting on his US$14 million in remaining salary, which carries a cap hit this season and next of US$7.6 million.
Winnipeg, which would have been right up against the US$81.5-million salary cap ceiling with Byfuglien on the roster, has had to save financial space for a potential return. That’s put them in the difficult spot of having a large void in the lineup but not having any financial freedom to do anything about it.
It remains to be seen whether this latest news changes any of that. For example, there would be salary-cap relief if an injured player was placed on long-term injured reserve.
Byfuglien suffered two separate ankle injuries last season, along with a concussion, which limited him to 42 regular-season games. His absence has left a major hole on Winnipeg’s blue line, which also lost Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot to free agency this past summer, and Jacob Trouba in a trade.
The Jets are 6-7-0 this season, with a revolving door of defencemen being utilized. Eighteen-year-old rookie Ville Heinola has played eight games, while the team also picked up Carl Dahlstrom and Luca Sbisa on waivers.
Nathan Beaulieu, who was expected to play a prominent role and perhaps even be partnered with Byfuglien, has yet to play after suffering an upper-body injury during training camp. He is closing in on a return, perhaps as early as this weekend as the Jets play in San Jose on Friday and Las Vegas on Saturday.
— Mike McIntyre
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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