November 22, 2019

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Big Buff saga takes uncongenial turn

Looks like player, Jets will square off in arbitration over ankle injury

David Becker / The Associated Press</p><p>Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler (left) and centre Mark Scheifele celebrate Scheifele's third-period goal Saturday night in Las Vegas.</p>

David Becker / The Associated Press

Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler (left) and centre Mark Scheifele celebrate Scheifele's third-period goal Saturday night in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS — Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets appear to be on a collision course for arbitration.

That’s the latest word surrounding the 34-year-old defenceman, who remains suspended without pay after opting out of training camp in September, apparently to consider retirement.

Dustin Byfuglien</p></p>

Dustin Byfuglien

The strange saga took a twist last week when Byfuglien underwent independent surgery in Minnesota to repair an issue with his ankle, but exactly how that injury occurred seems to be the source of much debate.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported Saturday on Hockey Night In Canada that the Jets are taking the position Byfuglien’s ankle, which suffered two different injuries last season and limited him to just 42 games, was fully healed following the routine player exit physicals in April.

They were apparently taken by surprise that Byfuglien and his camp now claim his ankle never fully recovered and flared up when he tried skating just days before training camp after taking the entire summer away from the rink.

Friedman described the current situation as "emotional and heated" and that the independent arbitrator will likely be asked to rule if this is a hockey-related injury and, if so, whether Byfuglien is entitled to some, or all, of his US$8-million salary he’s currently being denied.

The other matter yet to be resolved is whether the ankle surgery is a sign Byfuglien intends to resume his career. And, if he does, whether that will be with Winnipeg. He has one more year after this on his contract, with US$6 million owing. Recovery from the procedure is expected to take as long as four months.

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was tight-lipped as he met with the media last week in San Jose. That, according to Friedman, is because the Jets are under orders — presumably legal — not to say anything of substance about the matter.


Just when it started to look like the Jets blue line was getting healthy, another defenceman has gone down.

This time it was Tucker Poolman, who left Saturday night’s game in Las Vegas with an upper-body injury. Poolman, who has been playing on the top pairing with Josh Morrissey, wasn’t entirely sure what the problem was.

"I don’t really know. I’ll give you more details later. He just wasn’t feeling particularly well. It’s not head related. We don’t think. He was off," coach Paul Maurice said.

Poolman has had trouble staying healthy in his pro career so far. He missed two months last season with a concussion while playing with the Manitoba Moose, then suffered a lower-body injury later in the season.

The Jets were off Sunday as they returned to Winnipeg from the desert, so the earliest update on Poolman’s status will come following today’s practice.

Nathan Beaulieu, who has yet to play this season after getting hurt during the final pre-season game against Minnesota, could be ready to make his debut on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils.


It was a peculiar sight in overtime Saturday, with Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers taking a shift together during the three-on-three skills session.

The all-forward, no-defence trio nearly worked, with Scheifele almost potting the winner. A short time later, Kyle Connor’s goal ended it, as he skated with Patrik Laine and defenceman Neal Pionk.

"I like it a lot. We’ve talked quite a bit about making that more the standard format. It helps when Blake’s there. And Neal Pionk played 29, almost 30 minutes. And he was next out.

And there’s no way that he and Morrissey were gonna recover fast enough. Morrissey had gone up the ice on a full sprint, so we needed at least one rotation," Maurice said.


On the subject of unusual developments, how about the fact neither Ehlers or Laine was on the top power-play unit against the Golden Knights?

Kyle Connor celebrates with Patrik Laine after scoring in OT Saturday (right).</p>

Kyle Connor celebrates with Patrik Laine after scoring in OT Saturday (right).

Ehlers, the team’s leading goal scorer, apparently opted out last week after practice, suggesting he was more comfortable with his traditional spot on the second unit. As for Laine, Maurice said he wanted to use Mathieu Perreault in his place, especially with the Finnish winger coming off a lower-body injury that kept him out of the previous two games.

The move paid off, with Perreault scoring on the power play early in the third period. Laine and Ehlers, meanwhile, only saw limited power-play time on the second unit.

"We wanted Patty to be in a position that he was going to shoot that puck. On a unit with Scheif, the one that we’ve run here for the last year, if he doesn’t get it, he’s never going to shoot it. So, he sits there and waits for it to come to him," Maurice said.

"We might stay with that structure, depending on the kill. I want him coming downhill with the puck and shooting it every single time. We get him in a rhythm and get more shots, so I like it. Where it goes, I don’t know yet — we’ll see — but we’ll let it run for a bit."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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