Dustin Byfuglien is officially an unrestricted free agent after the Jets and NHLPA came to an agreement following the November grievance he filed.
The NHL and NHLPA announced on Friday that the Jets defenseman’s contract has been terminated seven months after he took a leave of absence to mull his future. The team suspended Byfuglien, but he filed a grievance arguing he was recovering from a hockey injury and therefore should be paid. He underwent surgery in October for a high ankle sprain.
“Obviously this was never our desired outcome with Dustin,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said on a Friday conference call.
Byfuglien’s contract, which carried a $7.6 million cap hit, was set to expire in 2021, but his suspension meant the Jets had the ability to toll it to 2021-22.
How badly did Byfuglien want to be free? Cheveldayoff confirmed that the settlement saw zero dollars go the defenseman’s way. That’s him saying bye-bye to $14 million over the next two seasons.
Thank you Dustin Byfuglien for your contributions over the years to the Winnipeg Jets!
As a member of our organization, Byfuglien played 636 regular season and playoff games and tallied 441 points in that time. pic.twitter.com/bXvJ9zcy47
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) April 17, 2020
Byfuglien was an interesting name to surface around the NHL Trade Deadline. Cheveldayoff could have included him in a deal, but those plans fell apart when he learned the defenseman did not plan to play this season.
“Interestingly enough, Dustin essentially made the decision not to play this year,” Cheveldayoff said a few days after the deadline. “And that essentially kind of squashed anything that might happen for someone to maybe put him in their lineup this year. We can still trade him at any point in time, with respect to the future as well.”
The question now becomes, once the NHL resumes, what the future holds for the 35-year-old Byfuglien, who had been with the franchise since its final season in Atlanta in 2010-11. Does he want to play again? He could continue rehabbing and pursue a contract whenever the 2020 free agent market opens. But how hesitant will teams be in pursuing a defenseman coming off ankle surgery who hasn’t played since April 20, 2019?
There’s always a team willing to take a chance, right?