The Winnipeg Jets are reportedly looking to get as much value as possible out of defenseman Dustin Byfuglien before the pair part ways.
Dustin Byfuglien has yet to — maybe won’t at all — play a second of ice time in the 2019-20 NHL season. However, that seemingly does not preclude him from becoming a bargaining chip for the Winnipeg Jets in the days leading up to the trade deadline.
According to a report from TSN’s Frank Seravalli on Wednesday night, the Jets are actively shopping the defenseman as the trade deadline approaches. Previously, the Jets and Byfuglien had been working towards a mutual contract termination, but talks on that front have seemingly stalled as general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff looks to maximize his return for the 34-year-old defenseman.
It’s hard to say if the Jets will find a trade partner at all, given that Byfuglien has yet to indicate that he’ll be willing to play this season. Byfuglien was given an indefinite leave of absence in September 2019, and after he was suspended from the team without pay for failing to report to training camp, the news broke that the defenseman was dealing with a high-ankle sprain that required surgery.
While the surgery was supposed to keep Byfuglien off the ice until the start of 2020, the defenseman has not played at all this season. Should a team take a flier on Byfuglien, the long-term risk would be quite high, as the defenseman has one year left on his five-year, $38 million contract that would have him sitting at a cap hit of $7.6 million during the 2020-21 season.
However, given how contracts work in the NHL, Byfuglien’s cap hit this season now sits at a prorated $1.84 million with less than a month and a half left in the regular season. In Seravalli’s article on TSN, he outlines how low-risk this deal could potentially be for an NHL team willing to bite on Byfuglien:
"At the worst case, if Byfuglien refuses to report, then he will remain suspended without pay – at no salary cap consequence to the acquiring team. That team could then move to terminate Byfuglien’s contract, like the Jets can now, or opt to hold his rights into the summer to see if he has interest in resuming his career next season."
Given the maneuvering a hockey team could do to keep themselves from paying Byfuglien’s contract should he continue to sit out — or possibly retire — it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a team may have interest in Byfuglien. Over his career, Byfuglien is a solid 30-point defenseman who adds a big shot, a bigger hit potential and overall energy to a team’s lineup.
The concern is, of course, the ankle injury that’s derailed his career and his dwindling play for a defenseman nearing the age of 35.
Seravalli’s article does not detail who would have interest in Byfuglien other than his connection to current Florida head coach Joel Quenneville and his Minnesota roots. Columbus, with their injuries this season to their defense, their $26 million in deadline cap space and position as a playoff hopeful is a possible fit as well.
With the trade deadline approaching in a matter of days, Byfuglien’s sudden inclusion into the NHL trade market is an intriguing one and one that adds a new wrinkle to the saga that’s beset both parties over the last year.
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