This was absolutely paramount for the Winnipeg Jets, to sign their best and most valuable unrestricted free agent.
For management to tell Winnipeg fans that it is willing to spend what it takes to compete, and for their best player to tell his teammates, “This is a city that an elite player is willing to devote himself to. I’m not leaving for a warmer climate where almost nobody cares about hockey. I’ll take the scrutiny, I’ll take the weather, and I’ll take the travel, because I believe in this program.
“I believe in Winnipeg.”
“I’ve been here five years now and where we started and where we’re at now, I don’t feel as an organization or as a group that we’re far off,” Byfuglien told reporters in St. Louis, where the Jets face the Blues Tuesday night. “We’ve got a good group of guys here that I’ve been with for a while now. Just watching the process of everyone coming up and who’s coming in the organization now and what we’ve got coming, I believe in what they’re trying to do around here. You can’t win a Stanley Cup overnight. It’s a process, and I feel they’re in the right state, so I thought I’d run with them.
“It never really crossed my mind going anywhere. I’m excited to be a Jet.”
Now, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff can trade Andrew Ladd with clear conscience. No, now he should trade Ladd by the deadline, because one long-term (five years, with an average annual value of $7.6 million) deal for a player who turns 31 later this year is enough.
Despite the fact that Ladd is the Jets’ captain, choosing between the two pending UFAs must have been relatively easy for Cheveldayoff. Teams across the NHL are clamouring for a defenceman who can shoot the puck, one who can rush the puck, or one who can play physical.
Well, Byfuglien does all of those things. And, he’s become one of the favourites inside the dressing room as well.
Here’s the thing on Byfuglien: He’s a bit of a good ol’ boy, who’d just as soon spend his summer in a fishing boat then a gym. There are a thousand lakes near Winnipeg, and likely enough rinks to keep him in game shape too.
To that end, the Jets paid a tad more per season than they would have liked, while keeping the term to five years. We’ve said before that Byfuglien is a freak of nature that can play the game at north of 240 lbs. and still be effective. As they age though, bigger players historically suffer more injuries.
All of those traits make Big Buff a core member of this Jets team, and beloved by his teammates. Remember, when Evander Kane was doing his act in Winnipeg, it was Byfuglien who finally grabbed that tracksuit off the hook and chucked it in the showers.
It was a sign to management that the players had reached their tipping point. Kane was dealt soon after.
“His personality is probably bigger than he is in that room,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “Dustin’s a guy who is connected to everybody in the room — kind of like a man of the people. He can go to the All-Star Game and hang out with the best of those guys and then go have dinner with the fourth line guys. He’s a real regular guy and because of that he has a connection to everybody in the room.
“(Byfuglien) gives everybody the business, coaches included. That’s a real strength when you are an elite player.”
The Jets have one for the next five years, and despite this unfulfilling season, they’ve got the makings of a team that can accomplish something.
It’s a good day to be a Winnipegger.