As the Winnipeg Jets continue to trudge through an up-and-down 2019-20 campaign, the biggest story surrounding the club remains the ongoing saga with veteran defenceman Dustin Byfuglien.
Absent from the lineup all season as he mulled retirement after 14 years in the big leagues, it was announced earlier this week that the big-bodied defenceman underwent surgery for a high-ankle sprain and will not be available to play until the new year, at the earliest. That being the case, the complicated situation between Byfuglien and the Jets doesn’t look set for a resolution any time soon.
“It’s emotional, it’s heated, and it’s likely going to arbitration,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said Saturday during the ‘Headlines’ segment of Hockey Night in Canada. “Here’s what I believe the NHL/Jets side is in all of this — first of all, the Jets have been told they can’t say anything, which is why Kevin Cheveldayoff has been so guarded in his comments. But, from what I understand, they feel in the exit physical at the end of last year, Dustin Byfuglien was deemed fit to play. He didn’t let anyone know that he had injuries with his ankle all summer, and made it clear at the beginning of the year he was ready to retire.
“However, Byfuglien — his representatives at Octagon and I assume the Players’ Association too — their position is Byfuglien was hurt going into the playoffs, everybody knew that, he was playing injured, he took all summer off to heal, he went to Winnipeg because he planned to play, his ankle acted up again when he started skating, and they feel it’s a legitimate hockey injury.”
The situation was further complicated by Byfuglien’s recent surgery, according to Friedman.
“As part of the surgery, [they] discovered a broken bone in his foot, but there’s also dispute over when that injury occurred and when everybody knew this. So, laying it out that way right now, I think now everybody has a better understanding of why an arbitrator, as we sit here tonight, is probably going to have to decide this.”
The Roseau, Minn., native has spent the past eight years with the organization, becoming a staple on the Jets’ blue line over that span. However, despite that lengthy relationship, plenty is at stake for both sides heading into the potentially contentious negotiations.
“The other important part of the arbitrator is that there’s money involved, and those bad feelings,” added Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston during the ‘Headlines’ segment. “What’s important to understand here is that Dustin Byfuglien was uncertain about the future of his career, but he’s since indicated a willingness to return and play. And he has a contract, of course, for this year and next. He’s missed out on roughly $1.4 million of his salary to this point this season, he would be due more than $6 million for the next.
“So, if they get into an arbitration-type situation, a lot of what will be discussed is, ‘When does he start getting paid? Does the timer start now, was it back at the start of the season? Is it when he’s healthy?’ And the money, of course, is where a lot of the dispute comes in.”
Friedman added that it remains to be seen, if Byfuglien does return, whether Winnipeg still wants him, and whether the veteran still wants to play for the Jets after all is said and done.