Things already seemed potentially bumpy for the Winnipeg Jets heading into 2019-20, and now it’s unclear how long it will take for Dustin Byfuglien to sort out a personal situation.
The Jets announced on Friday that Byfuglien has been granted a leave of absence, and head coach Paul Maurice wasn’t able to provide a potential timeline for Byfuglien’s return. The most Maurice could provide was that it would interrupt the team’s next opportunity to skate, but beyond that, it seems unclear.
Maurice did assert that nothing “sinister” is going on, and noted that Byfuglien and his family are healthy.
After a frustrating end to 2018-19, there are quite a few factors that indicate that things could start off a little shaky:
- Again, Byfuglien might “miss some games” … or not. Either way, Byfuglien hopes to put behind last season, where he was limited to 42 regular-season appearances (and six playoff games).
- Key RFAs Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor still are without contracts at this moment. It’s unclear when their negotiations will be settled, and if they’ll stretch into the actual regular season.
- Winnipeg lost some significant pieces during this offseason, undoubtedly in part to make room for Laine and Connor, with Jacob Trouba, Kevin Hayes, and Tyler Myers being the most notable losses.
- Their schedule might also contribute to a bumpy beginning. The Jets begin 2019-20 on a four-game road trip, and play five of their first six games away from home. Such a stretch doesn’t guarantee struggles — especially if the Rangers (Oct. 3) and Devils (Oct. 4) remain works in progress — but on paper, it does seem like a challenge amidst all of that upheaval.
It will also be interesting to see how well Byfuglien plays, whenever he’s ready to return.
Byfuglien managed four goals and 31 points last season, which is pretty impressive considering that he produced that much offense in just 42 games. Byfuglien’s underlying numbers were excellent to boot.
That said, it remains to be seen if Byfuglien can stay on the ice with better consistency (assuming he can work out the off-the-ice matters he’s currently dealing with). As a truly unique physical presence, it’s been interesting to see him age quite well so far, but you never know if a big, Byfuglien-sized drop might come soon, as he’s already 34.
Overall, both the Jets and Byfuglien face a bit more uncertainty than they’ve carried in quite some time, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the player and the team both managed to pull off a strong 2019-20 … even if a bumpy start also seems plausible.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.