WINNIPEG — Dustin Byfuglien, who’s been something of a lightning rod on the Winnipeg Jets’ blueline, appeared at practice today wearing a forward’s jersey.
It often signals a change, and many think the 19-22-5 team needs some of that, but there wasn’t much certainty whether the move was permanent or just a temporary measure.
Jets forwards Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler were away with the flu today, and Evander Kane was given the day off for health maintenance reasons.
"What I was told that we were just short numbers so I can go play forward today," Byfuglien told reporters after practice at the MTS Centre. "That’s all I’ve been told so far."
Jets coach Claude Noel wasn’t committing to anything when asked about it.
"We’re not sure what’ll happen with Buff but if he’s in there for the game (Saturday at home against Columbus), we will be the ones that will determine that will be the best thing for us to get us a win, to get us on track," Noel said. "So we’ll see tomorrow. We were short today, we had some body issues today. We had to kind of get through practice and there’s a number of things we’re looking at doing.
"We’ll reassess the situation tomorrow so if you guys pay attention to practice, maybe you can take a look and see what you think."
Byfuglien said he would simply do what he’s asked.
"What’s ever best for the team," he said. "Whatever I can do to help, I’ll do. It’s not my decision."
The Jets are last in the NHL’s Central Division with 43 points, having lost four in a row.
The team, Noel said, feels the fans’ pain.
"We feel pretty much like they feel," the coach said. "We control the situation and we also feel confident we’ll be able to get it back on track. That’s what we’re trying to do because we hear their voices and I can tell you to a man with the players and the staff, we’re all feeling about the same.
"We’re trying to find solutions to get this thing back on the right track.
"We’re hoping they’ll still support us for the next game and we expect to be a lot better in the next game."
When asked what he’d say to fans, Byfuglien said after practice he and his teammates have enough to worry about.
"We just have to worry about ourselves in here," he said. "That’s the bottom line. We have to find our own way. We can’t worry about what other people think.
"We can win four or five, they’re still going to be all over us. It is what it is."
Byfuglien said now is the time for the team to stick with it.
"We’re a team here and we’re going to stick with it, stick together through it all," he said. "It’s a bumpy road but we just have to stick together and we’ll be fine."