The Winnipeg Jets and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien have agreed to a mutual contract termination, bringing an end to a strained relationship between the team and a former face of the franchise.
The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association made the announcement Friday.
Byfuglien had been with the Jets’ organization since its last season in Atlanta in 2010-11. The hulking fan favourite was a four-time all-star during his time with the Thrashers and Jets, serving as a long-time alternate captain.
Things turned sour, however, at the beginning of this season.
Byfuglien had been granted a leave of absence by the team for personal reasons, but was then suspended without pay after he failed to report to training camp in September.
The native of Roseau, Minn., subsequently filed a grievance challenging the suspension and underwent surgery in October for a high ankle sprain.
According to Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, the team was not directly involved in the decision-making process on the medical procedure.
“It’s a complicated issue,” Cheveldayoff told reporters at the time. “It’s a real complicated issue when it comes to answering any questions that you might have.”
Cheveldayoff wouldn’t say whether there was a difference of opinion between the club and Byfuglien’s camp on what kind of medical procedure was required to address his ankle injury, which he suffered late in the 2018-19 season.
“We were aware he was contemplating [the surgery],” he said. “When we said we weren’t directly involved, we weren’t directly involved. But we knew he was contemplating that. As far as what remains for the future, it’s something that we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Byfuglien’s absence this season was a blow to a Jets’ defence that also lost Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot over the summer. Winnipeg managed to stay competitive thanks in large part to the Vézina Trophy-calibre goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck, and was in a playoff spot when the NHL paused the season on March 12 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Friday’s announcement frees up US$7.6-million in salary-cap space for the Jets next season – a sum the team was unable to use during the 2019-20 campaign because of the uncertainty surrounding Byfuglien’s status.
The 35-year-old has 177 goals, 525 points and 1,094 penalty minutes in 869 regular-season games with the Chicago Blackhawks, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2010, and the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise.