The Winnipeg Jets and Dustin Byfuglien on Friday agreed to mutually terminate the veteran defenseman’s contract after a lengthy dispute, potentially marking the end of his hockey-playing career.
No financial settlement was part of the agreement, meaning Byfuglien walked away from the $14 million remaining on his contract for this season and next. Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said a conversation in September led him to believe Byfuglien was healthy but “had lost his desire to play in the National Hockey League.”
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The Jets suspended Byfuglien for not reporting to training camp and received a call from his agent in October that he was considering a return. Byfuglien underwent ankle surgery in October and rehabbed into the winter, but Cheveldayoff said the 35-year-old seemed content with his decision from the fall.
Byfuglien filed a grievance through the NHL Players’ Association believing he should be paid while recovering from a hockey injury. Talks including the league and Jets led to the resolution that terminated his contract effective immediately.
“Obviously this was never our desired outcome or ending with Dustin,” Cheveldayoff said.
Byfuglien, who hasn’t played since Winnipeg’s first-round playoff series last April, now becomes an unrestricted free agent. It’s unclear when he would be allowed to sign with any team because the NHL’s season is on hold due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
The league hasn’t decided when it will resume play, and whether it will skip the remainder of the regular season and open with the playoffs. At the very least, Byfuglien would be ineligible to compete in this year’s playoffs.
A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that Byfuglien was healthy enough to return playing, which is why he was no longer eligible to collect on his contract. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because that information was not revealed in the announcement released by the NHL and union.
Cheveldayoff said only Byfuglien can answer the question of whether he’ll play again. If Byfuglien hangs up his skates, he’ll be remembered for his unique blend of skill, size and physicality.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Minnesota native has 177 goals and 348 assists in 869 regular-season games with the Blackhawks and Atlanta Thrashers/Jets, and won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010.