Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets have taken a big step towards mending his broken ankle -- and possibly their fractured relationship.
Byfuglien has started a post-surgery rehabilitation program in consultation with the Jets that brings him closer to a potential on-ice return with the team later this season, the Free Press has learned.
Although he's working with medical staff at an independent clinic, there's been ongoing communication with the organization including recommendations for his treatment which are being pursued, two sources confirmed Tuesday.
It's also worth noting that what appeared to be a looming arbitration case between Byfuglien and the Jets still has no set date. That's significant, since there was believed to be some urgency between the parties to get the matter settled, with the organization wanting to get salary cap clarity.
The longer it goes without a hearing being scheduled, the greater the possibility that one won't be needed and the situation gets worked out amicably.
Byfuglien's agent, Ben Hankinson, didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.
"To our understanding he has progressed to the stage of doing rehab. However, his status with the team remains unchanged," a Jets spokesman said Tuesday. "He is doing rehab at an outside clinic. He is still under suspension."
“To our understanding he has progressed to the stage of doing rehab. However, his status with the team remains unchanged. He is doing rehab at an outside clinic. He is still under suspension.” – Jets spokesman
Byfuglien failed to report to training camp following a meeting with general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff in which he raised the possibility of retirement, despite being under contract for two more seasons to the tune of US $14 million.
The saga took a surprise twist in late October when Byfuglien underwent independent surgery in Minnesota. Exactly how and when that injury occurred is the source of much debate.
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 taken by surprise when Byfuglien and his camp claimed his ankle never fully recovered and flared up when he tried skating days before training camp after taking the entire summer away from the rink.
The NHLPA got involved and are seeking to have an independent arbitrator 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 for this season which 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, which holds his playing rights.
Recovery from the procedure was expected to take as long as four months, which would run until the end of February. That opens the door for the Jets to add a potential impact defenceman right around the trade deadline -- without having to give up any assets.
Byfuglien and his family have remained in Manitoba, and he's been spotted in recent weeks by fans at various locales, including a restaurant, a fishing and hunting store and a lodge in Virden, often posing for selfies.
The Jets have been tight-lipped about the situation, as they are under orders from the NHL to not say anything of substance about the matter.
"It's a real complicated issue," is as much as Cheveldayoff would offer during his last media availability in late October, once news about Byfuglien's surgery broke.
Things may become a lot clearer in the coming weeks with Byfuglien now on the road to recovery — and perhaps a reunion with the Jets.
Assistant sports editor
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Updated on Tuesday, December 17, 2019 at 5:31 PM CST: Photo added.
7:29 PM: Updates headline