‘Beyond Headlines’ is a deeper dive into some of the stories — and even some that weren’t — discussed each week on Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘Headlines’ segment.
We are starting to gain a better understanding of why the Dustin Byfuglien situation is so “complicated.”
That was how Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff described things during an appearance on Hockey Night in Canada from the Heritage Classic last weekend, and since then the curtain has been pulled back ever-so-slightly.
Here’s what we know:
— Byfuglien recently underwent surgery on his ankle, where it was also discovered he had a broken bone in his foot.
— Byfuglien has expressed a willingness to resume his playing career once healthy after previously contemplating retirement.
— The Jets are taking the position that Byfuglien should remain suspended without pay until he is fit to play since he was cleared by doctors at last year’s end-of-season medicals and didn’t report to training camp for fitness testing in September.
Now, there are still a lot of important details unaccounted for. Exactly who told what to whom and when. And why, for example, didn’t Byfuglien just come to camp and avoid the team-issued suspension in the first place?
It’s easy to understand why this has become such an emotional situation for the parties involved.
Byfuglien was due to be the Jets second-highest-paid player this season and an important part of helping the organization move forward from a summer where it parted ways with defencemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot.
Then he caught management off-guard with the timing of his decision to sit out training camp and this more recent revelation that he’s experiencing further issues with his ankle. Now he wants to be paid?
Conversely, consider the player’s perspective: There is no disputing the fact the 34-year-old defenceman missed considerable time last season because of an ankle injury and made his way back just before the playoffs. Then he experienced discomfort when he resumed skating late in the off-season and required another procedure to continue his career. He wants his contract honoured during the recovery.
All signs point to a neutral arbitrator eventually sorting through this mess.
There is a significant amount of money at stake since Byfuglien was due to earn $8 million this season and it’s currently unclear if he’ll see any of it. There is also precedent to protect from the NHL’s standpoint since fitness-to-play protocol is covered under the collective bargaining agreement.
Byfuglien has 60 days to officially file a grievance, but the guess here is it won’t take that long. It’s probably not going to get any less complicated once he does, too.
BLUE CHIP TRADE CHIP
The thought crossed my mind while watching Stephen Strasburg deliver an MVP performance in helping the Washington Nationals win the World Series: How soon is too soon to give up on a top-tier prospect?
Strasburg was a No. 1 overall pick and can’t-miss star 10 years ago who endured injuries and inconsistencies. He had a couple high-quality seasons, too, but nothing like the one he just delivered at age 30 for Washington.
The comparison may not be perfect, but it’s something the Edmonton Oilers have to be thinking about as they decide what to do with former No. 4 overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi. The 21-year-old continues to fill the net in Finland — with 11 goals and 20 points in 18 games for Karpat — and seems to have regained some confidence while wearing the gold helmet for his hometown team.
It certainly doesn’t seem like a stretch to suggest that Puljujarvi may yet still become a useful NHL player, perhaps even an impactful one.
The only problem for Edmonton is that he has no interest in doing that for the Oilers. Puljujarvi is still seeking a fresh start when he returns to North America and hasn’t backed off his trade request.
As general manager Ken Holland heads over to Finland this week to watch Puljujarvi in the Karjala Cup, he has to wrestle with the fact he may not know exactly what he’s giving up in a potential Puljujarvi trade and likely needs to net a player with similar upside to make the return worthwhile.
Bobby Ryan. Brent Seabrook. Tyler Toffoli.
Each is a veteran player earning well above the league-average salary and each got paid to watch from the press box as a healthy scratch in recent days.
As a result, all of them should be considered available on the trade market — although Toffoli’s situation differs greatly from the other two. He’s still only 27 and is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, so there’s considerably less risk and baggage tied to his contract.
With the Los Angeles Kings expected to resume their campaign of shipping out veteran players for future assets, his is a name to watch leading up to the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
Finding a new home for the other seasoned scratches may not be possible.
Ryan has a modified no-trade clause and two more years after this one on his deal with Ottawa at $7.25 million. Seabrook has a full no-movement clause and four years beyond this one with Chicago at $6.875 million.
Consider this a luxury most NHL teams don’t have: The Boston Bruins can literally roll out either of their goaltenders on any given night and expect to get an above-average performance.
In fact, when choosing whether to start Tuukka Rask or Jaroslav Halak, the biggest consideration is how that decision fits into the overall schedule to ensure both are getting a consistent workload. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t spend much time trying to line things up so that Rask gets all of the toughest opponents or Halak faces only the teams he’s had historical success against.
“There’s not a lot of ‘Well, his record in New York is this or that,'” said Cassidy. “We don’t go through a whole lot of that.”
Not only do the Bruins have the NHL’s best team save percentage at .934, they’ve done it with this sequence of starters through 13 games: Rask-Halak-Rask-Halak-Rask-Halak-Rask-Halak-Rask-Rask-Halak-Rask-Rask.
This is the future.
Gone are the days when a goaltender could make 70 (or even 60) regular-season starts and still be counted on to perform in the playoffs. Rask was the biggest reason Boston reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last spring and would have claimed the Conn Smythe Trophy if they knocked off St. Louis that night.
That came after a season where he started just 46 games — a season where both he and Halak won more than 20 times apiece for Boston.
Cassidy has Rask pencilled in for somewhere between 45 and 52 starts this year. He consults with goalie coach Bob Essensa and the team’s analytics department when charting out the schedule well in advance.
“Not only is it about Tuukka, it’s about Jaro,” said Cassidy. “If he’s into double digits [in days] between games, how effective is he going to be playing after having 10, 11, 12 days off? So that will probably eat into a little bit of Tuukka’s consecutive starts because we want him going, too.”
The ownership group in Seattle is believed to be getting close to finalizing its team name and should be ready to unveil it publicly before the all-star break … The off-season rule changes on faceoffs were designed in part to improve game flow and it appears to be working: The average time of a game dipped below two hours 30 minutes during the first month … Of note with San Jose struggling mightily out of the gates: The Ottawa Senators own the Sharks’ 2020 first-round draft pick from the Erik Karlsson trade and it is not lottery-protected.