The Winnipeg Jets and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien are working towards a mutual contract termination, Sportsnet can confirm.
The termination would open the door for Byfuglien to sign with another team as an unrestricted free agent immediately. It would also create $7.6 million in cap space for the Jets to spend elsewhere. However, before a termination is made official, Byfuglien would first need to pass through waivers, as Ilya Kovalchuk did when he and the Kings agreed to mutually terminate his contract earlier this season.
Byfuglien could be placed on waivers as early as Tuesday morning. If we were to be eligible to play in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Byfuglien would need to sign a new contract somewhere by Feb. 24.
The decision to terminate Byfuglien’s contract — which was due to expire after the 2020-21 season — ends a long saga that began when he opted not to report to training camp this past fall. At the time, Byfuglien was reportedly contemplating retirement and he has been suspended without pay all season.
However, in October Byfuglien had surgery on his ankle, which led to some speculation over whether the case would go before an arbitrator.
If it did, the debate would be over the timing of the injury, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Byfuglien and his agency would argue that the injury that required surgery occurred during the playoffs and that therefore he shouldn’t be suspended while recovering. The Jets would then counter that argument by saying that Byfuglien passed his physical at the end of the season and was deemed fit to play.
No hearing date had been set for arbitration so the Jets have had to plan around their cap as if Byfuglien’s $7.6 million could return this season. A contract termination would remove that obligation and allow the Jets to act more freely around the trade deadline, if they so choose.
On Saturday, Friedman reported that Byfuglien had yet to resume skating and that he was unlikely to play this season.
“If this is the way it gets finalized in the next few days, I think it allows the Jets to do some things if they want to,” Friedman said during Saturday’s Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada.