The saga of Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets took another turn Wednesday as news came in that the defenceman underwent surgery on his ankle last week in Minnesota.
“We were aware he was contemplating having surgery, but were not directly involved in his decision making process,” True North Sports and Entertainment senior director of hockey communications Scott Brown said.
That’s an interesting turn of phrase because it asserts this was something Byfuglien did on his own. The blueliner will not be available to play until 2020, if he does indeed decide to return.
Byfuglien injured his ankle in December of 2018 and missed the next five weeks of action. He returned in early February and finished out the season, including the playoffs. He posted 31 points in 42 regular season games and added eight points in six playoff games.
The surgery was intended to solve the issues presented by the initial ankle injury, which was believed to have caused at least some of what contributed to Byfuglien’s reluctance to play this season.
With the ankle healed, it’s still not known if that means a return to action for the 34-year-old but it does clear away at least one reported obstacle.
Byfuglien was suspended by the Jets without pay after failing to report to training camp in September. This followed a leave of absence for personal reasons, at which point it was reported that he was contemplating retirement.
Byfuglien has two years to go on his contract, which carries a cap hit of $7.6 million. The suspension mitigates the cap hit so long as he remains inactive.
To date, Byfuglien has not addressed any of these issues and head coach Paul Maurice and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have been adamant about giving their player the space he needs. That’s a good thing.
Back in September, Maurice met with Byfuglien and had a “wonderful conversation.”
“Dustin is a big part of our family here,” Cheveldayoff said at the time. “There’s always an open policy for discussions. We always care about people of our family. One thing I will say, healthwise, everything is good for him and his family. But again, from our standpoint, we support Dustin and look forward to the resolution.”
As patient as the Jets have been with this, it’s impossible to ignore that this has put them in a difficult position. While Winnipeg hasn’t been on the hook for salary, they have had to keep a certain dollar amount set aside in the event that he does return. With him on the roster, they’d be right up against the cap ceiling.
And their blueline has been, to put it kindly, depleted.
It is interesting to note that the Jets could have cap relief if Byfuglien was put on the long-term injured reserve list, but the suspension cancels out that problem for the time being. It’s also interesting to note that the defenceman could’ve reported for training camp, had the surgery, gone on LITR, and collected pay. That he didn’t do that circles right back to the question of what’s really going on.
Photo credit: NHL.com