The Dustin Byfuglien watch continues in earnest, yet those within the Winnipeg Jets organization say they aren’t peering out any windows for a glimpse of the big blue-liner.
They’ve left a light on, though.
While the team won’t comment on the situation, the lines of communication remain open with the star defenceman, who left the club on the eve of training camp to contemplate his hockey future
Discussions with the Byfuglien camp happened as recently as this past week, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice offered no new information following practice Friday.
"Any updates will be coming from (general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff). I’m just dealing with the guys in the room," he said. "We don’t have a daily conversation or a weekly conversation. (Cheveldayoff) will come in and tell me. I’ve got nothing for you on that front."
Byfuglien has, save for a couple of pictures on social media of him at a local watering hole, kept a low profile. Meanwhile, nary a word has been said since Winnipeg’s GM delivered the stupefying news Sept. 13 that the 6-5, 260-pound defenceman had requested, and was granted, a personal leave of absence.
No reason for the leave was given by the club, although the belief now is Byfuglien is wrestling with the possibility of retirement after 935 regular-season and playoff games over 12 years as an NHL regular, including a Stanley Cup win in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks.
For now, the 34-year-old — who was to earn US$8 million this season — is suspended without pay, meaning his contract is off the books, for now. But financial compensation won’t be what sways the father of three and avid outdoorsman from Roseau, Minn., who was plagued by injuries last season. His years of service to date add up to nearly US$60 million in earnings.
His Minneapolis-based agent, Ben Hankinson, had little in the way of an update Friday.
"I really can’t comment on anything at this point. If Dustin wanted to comment on it, he could. I’m his agent, obviously, so I could, too, but it’s not something to comment on. It’s too sensitive to comment on and throw out in the media," Hankinson said. "Internally, we’ll figure something out with the Jets. I want to respect Dustin’s personal family situation.
"I’ve got people calling me every day... I just have nothing I can add. We just gotta let it play out and see what happens."
The Jets (3-2-0) are in Chicago tonight. Game time is 6 p.m.
Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey were the presumed pillars of a depleted defensive corps this season, after Jacob Trouba was traded to the New York Rangers, unrestricted free agent Tyler Myers signed with the Vancouver Canucks and Ben Chiarot, also a UFA, inked a contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
Neal Pionk, acquired in the Trouba trade, Tucker Poolman and Dmitry Kulikov have been relatively sound on the right side through five games, particularly during the Jets’ current two-game winning streak. Morrissey, Anthony Bitetto and Ville Heinola have been effective for the most part, although the Finnish rookie struggled at times Thursday against a physical Minnesota squad in Winnipeg’s 5-2 victory over the Wild.
Morrissey and Kulikov have also missed games, forcing Sami Niku and newcomer Carl Dahlstrom into the lineup.
Appropriately, team brass has been patient while Byfuglien ponders his future. The Jets dearly want their skilled, bruising teammate to return to the fold, but understand some very personal decisions are being considered behind the scenes.
"You learn to adjust. You do with what you have. We’d be glad to have him back. But if not, it’s his own life. He gets to do whatever he wants, and we respect that," forward Mathieu Perreault said. "I saw him maybe last week. He’s doing well. I’m just happy that he’s healthy and he’s in a good place."
Adam Lowry echoed those sentiments, just before the club left Bell MTS Place to catch a plane to Chicago.
"We come to the rink, and the team that’s here is what we focus on. We’re not too worried about the other things. When you start hoping, when you start wishing, you don’t take care of what your job is. So, I think we’re rolling with the (defence) we have, with the team we have and we’re just trying to build and get better every day," the Jets centre said.
"I think that’s a personal issue, a personal matter for (Byfuglien), so we let him know the guys are here for him. But we kind of keep all that to ourselves."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Friday, October 11, 2019 at 9:57 PM CDT: Fixes typo