The Winnipeg Jets and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien are headed toward a solution.
According to a report from TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the Jets and Byfuglien are closing in on a mutual contract termination that will officially end his time with the franchise.
Byfuglien has not played for the Jets this season after stepping away from the team just before training camp to contemplate his future. The Jets officially suspended him, while Byfuglien filed a grievance in November arguing that he should have still been paid as he was recovering from a hockey injury. He underwent ankle surgery in October.
He has played for the organization since the start of the 2010-11 season when it was still based in Atlanta.
During his time with the team has been one of the league’s most productive offensive defensemen and the foundation of the Jets’ blue line. He was limited to just 42 games a year ago due to injury, but the Jets were still planning on him playing a significant role on this year’s team. But as training camp approached he stepped away from the team, leaving an already undermanned Jets’ defense without its best and most impactful player.
That came after the Jets had traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers and saw Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot exit in free agency.
If the two sides eventually come to an agreement on a contract termination, Byfuglien would become an unrestricted free agent, while the Jets would clear a significant amount of salary cap space before the trade deadline and for next season. Byfuglien’s current contract carries a salary cap hit of $7.6 million per season.
What comes next for Jets, Byfuglien
The big thing here for the Jets is that it would finally give them some clarity on their defense, what they need, and what they have to work with.
They would know for sure that Byfuglien is not returning, and it would also create a ton of salary cap flexibility for the offseason to fill that spot and upgrade the entire position. As of now, the only defensemen the Jets have under contract for next season are Josh Morrissey, Neal Poink, Tucker Poolman, and Carl Dahlstrom. Not exactly a great situation. While Morrissey and Poink figure to be long-term pieces, Poolman and Dahlmstrom are both in their mid-20s and have limited NHL experience.
It would also create a serious of questions for Byfuglien that still need to be answered.
That includes whether or not he is healthy enough to play this season and if he actually wants to play this season. If the answer to both of those questions are yes, he could still be a potential difference-maker in the stretch run and into the playoffs assuming he is healthy. The age and health situation are legitimate concerns, but he was still one of the top point-producing defenseman in the league just last season when he was on the ice.
Putting him on a contending lineup (without having to give up anything in return) would be a pretty big addition for someone if it happens.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.