Winnipeg Jets common supervisor Kevin Cheveldayoff chooses to recollect the great instances with Dustin Byfuglien.
The hulking defenceman’s crushing physique checks, his distinctive type, the thoughts video games in heated playoff sequence, the flexibility to ragdoll two opponents out of a scrum, and that booming slapshot.
These fond recollections, nevertheless, do not make Friday’s official parting of how any simpler.
“This was by no means our desired end result or ending with Dustin,” Cheveldayoff stated on a convention name. “If it had been the Jets writing the right script, it could’ve ended with Dustin holding an excellent, huge silver trophy over his head at centre ice and flashing that nice, huge smile.
“However we’re grateful for the time that we did have with Dustin right here. He was a pressure of nature on and off the ice. He has a tremendously infectious persona that you would be able to’t assist however just like the individual. He performed a major function on our workforce for a very long time.”
Byfuglien, who walked away from $7.6 million US each this season and subsequent, and didn’t obtain a monetary settlement, had been a staple with the group since its final season in Atlanta because the Thrashers following a commerce with Chicago within the wake of the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup victory.
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A fan favorite for all the pieces talked about above, he was a four-time all-star with the Thrashers/Jets, whereas additionally serving as a long-time alternate captain.
However issues turned bitter in the beginning of this season.
Depart of absence
Byfuglien, who signed a five-year, $38 million contract extension to remain within the Manitoba capital in February 2016, was granted a go away of absence for private causes on the eve of coaching camp.
“We met in my workplace that night, and he knowledgeable me he did not know if he had it in him to proceed taking part in within the NHL,” stated Cheveldayoff, who declined to disclose a lot concerning the scenario earlier than Friday. “We related once more collectively [Sept. 21] and had one other lengthy dialog. We had been attending to the purpose the place we needed to begin making some roster choices and [salary] cap choices. I requested him if there was a change. He stated he nonetheless did not need to retire, however nonetheless did not know that he had it in him to proceed to play.
“I stated, ‘Look, I’ve bought to droop you.’ He understood.”
Byfuglien, who Cheveldayoff stated did not talk any well being points over the summer time, then filed a grievance by means of the NHLPA believing he needs to be paid whereas recovering from a hockey harm. He rehabbed into January, however did not proceed to the purpose the place he bought again on skates, which in the end introduced the edges to Friday’s announcement.
“We definitely reside in a time proper now once we all perceive that issues do occur which might be generally surprising,” Cheveldayoff stated. “It is about how we select to maneuver on.
“Dustin nonetheless stays, in my estimation, an incredible individual.”
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If that is the tip of the NHL line for the six-foot-five, 260-pound native of Roseau, Minn. — a dominant pressure who may play defence or ahead — he shall be remembered for his distinctive skills in a sport that is seen many greater gamers largely fall by the wayside.
“It reveals his hockey sense and his skill to adapt,” Cheveldayoff stated. “Buff beloved to play the sport a sure approach. He performed it bodily.”
The 35-year-old has 177 objectives, 525 factors and 1,094 penalty minutes in 869 regular-season video games with Chicago and Atlanta/Winnipeg. Byfuglien has added 21 objectives and 50 factors in 66 playoff outings.
“He may intimidate you due to his dimension, however he actually wasn’t that soiled of a participant,” Cheveldayoff added. “He likes to play with having an influence on a sport.
Byfuglien’s absence this season was an enormous double blow to a Jets’ defence that additionally misplaced Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot over the summer time. They weren’t solely minus considered one of their finest gamers, however the uncertainty of the scenario additionally meant Cheveldayoff was unable to make use of the vacant $7.6 million cap hit to enhance his workforce.
“You possibly can sit there and say [we] would have executed this or would have executed that, however on the finish of the day everyone’s bought a selection,” Cheveldayoff stated. “Dustin’s selection was to be true to himself.
“If he actually did not have it in him to proceed to play, that is in all probability probably the most sincere factor.”
Winnipeg managed to remain aggressive in 2019-20 thanks largely to the Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck, and was in a playoff spot when the NHL paused its season March 12 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am actually truly fairly pleased with the job that the coaches, however extra in order that the gamers did to regulate,” Cheveldayoff stated. “Hopefully we will proceed and end off what’s definitely a really troublesome yr.”
So will we ever see Byfuglien, who’s now a free agent and might signal with any workforce for subsequent season, swimsuit up once more within the NHL?
“There’s just one individual and one individual solely who can reply,” Cheveldayoff stated. “And that is Dustin.”