The Winnipeg Jets and Dustin Byfuglien have officially parted ways, ending a lengthy relationship with a mutual contract termination that will see the veteran defenceman walk away from the remaining two years and $14 million on his contract.
“This was never our desired outcome. If it was the Jets writing the perfect script, it would have ended with Dustin holding a great big trophy over his head,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Friday morning in a conference call.
Byfuglien, 35, is now officially a free agent who could sign with any team for the start of next season. But that remains a long-shot since Byfuglien has made it clear he’s contemplating retirement.
“There’s only one person and one person only who can answer if he’ll ever play again, and that’s Dustin,” said Cheveldayoff.
Byfuglien has yet to speak publicly. but his wife, Emily, thanked the Jets organization and the city of Winnipeg in a lengthy social media post on Friday.
“I have nothing but gratitude towards the Jets for an amazing eight years in Winnipeg. What an awesome experience it has been. From having our first baby here, to now raising three kids in this much-loved community. We have grown up together and as a family here, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. The support from Winnipeggers has been overwhelming. I appreciate all of you that have reached out to me with support and kindness,” she said.
No one can know for certain what their future may bring. I never thought for a second our time here would be cut short under these circumstances. The past eight months have been the hardest of my life. I struggled to come to terms with the situation. I struggled as a wife and as a mother under the stress. I didn’t want any of it to be true. This has been the only life I’ve known for a long time, and I am beyond devastated to have to leave here. I love this city, and the people in it. I had the best eight years of Dustin’s NHL career here in Winnipeg.”
Cheveldayoff shed new light on the timeline of how this all played out, finally able to speak without the potential of an NHL-NHLPA grievance over the matter.
According to Cheveldayoff, Byfuglien approached him on Sept. 11 — the night before training camp was going to start — with a surprising announcement.
“He didn’t know if he had it in him to continue playing in the NHL. It was a very emotional time,” said Cheveldayoff, who followed up the next day with a visit to Byfuglien’s home.
The Jets suspended Byfuglien without pay for failing to report. And then the story took another turn on Oct. 3. “Good news, he wants to play again. But first, he has to have surgery on his ankle,” Cheveldayoff said Byfuglien’s agent told him.
Surgery was performed on Oct. 23, and Byfuglien was expecting to resume skating in early January with the idea of returning to play shortly after. But that never happened.
“He’s not going to continue with his rehab. The ankle has healed, but he’s not going to resume playing hockey,” Byfuglien’s agent told Cheveldayoff.
A grievance was filed by the NHLPA, essentially arguing Byfuglien should have been entitled to pay while injured, but no hearing was ever set and it appears that didn’t have a lot of legs since Cheveldayoff said Byfuglien made no mention of the lingering ankle issue when he reported for camp.
The matter has now been dropped. Cheveldayoff said there are no hard feelings, and he doesn’t believe this should tarnish his legacy.
“I look forward to the day he comes back into the arena and we have a great night for him,” he said. “He showed his integrity in that he didn’t have it in him, he wasn’t just going to go through the motions.”
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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