After months of confusion and speculation, the Dustin Byfuglien saga has finally come to an end. The veteran blueliner agreed to a deal that terminated his contract with the Winnipeg Jets on Friday, bringing his 10-year stint with the team to an end.
“The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association announced today that the Winnipeg Jets and Player Dustin Byfuglien have mutually resolved the grievance filed by Mr. Byfuglien following his suspension by the Club in September 2019,” the NHL and NHLPA said in a statement. “Pursuant to the agreement, Byfuglien’s standard player’s contract with the Club has been terminated, effective immediately.”
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
After reportedly considering retirement over the offseason, Byfuglien was suspended by Winnipeg in September for failing to report to training camp. The suspension would have allowed the team to save cap space but it was quickly challenged by an NHLPA grievance.
He underwent ankle surgery in October and was in injury rehab until January, at which point he told the team he wouldn’t continue with the process. He has yet to play a single game this season.
“On Sept. 11, the night before training camp, Dustin reached out to me,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “We met in my office that evening … and he didn’t know if he had it in him to continue playing in the NHL. It was something that I think is still somewhat of a private matter and that’ll stay somewhat private, but it was emotional. It was tough on him to even come in and talk to me. At that time I asked if he wanted a trade and he said it had nothing to do with a trade.
“After giving him some time, we connected again together at the arena,” he continued. “We had another long conversation about where things were at. Procedurally for us, we were getting to the point where we had to start making some roster decisions, cap reductions and the like. At that point in time, I asked him if things had changed or if he still didn’t want to retire, but he still didn’t know if he had it in him to continue to play. … I told him ‘look, I’ve got to suspend you’ and he understood, and we left it at that.”
Byfuglien first joined the team in 2010 — back when they were still the Atlanta Thrashers — and went on to play in over 600 games for the franchise.
“Obviously, this was never our desired outcome or ending with Dustin or the Jets,” Cheveldayoff said. “Writing the perfect script, it would have ended with Dustin holding [a] great big silver trophy over his head to flash that great big smile of his, but we’re grateful for the time that we did have Dustin.”
Originally drafted in the eighth round by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003, he tallied 525 combined points (177 goals, 348 assists) in 869 games between the Blackhawks and Jets. A member of Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team, Byfuglien played forward for the Blackhawks before switching back to the blue line with the Thrashers.
With his tenure in Winnipeg behind him, it’s unclear whether the 35-year-old defenseman is looking to join another NHL team at this point in his career.
“He’s a tremendous player and person and he’s a popular person around the league,” Cheveldayoff said. “There’s only one person and one person only that can answer if he’ll ever play again, and that’s Dustin Byfuglien.”