November 18, 2019

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Teammates stand by Byfuglien

Jets respect personal needs of missing star player

John Woods / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey says his time as a young player alongside Dustin Byfuglien improved his game.</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press files

Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey says his time as a young player alongside Dustin Byfuglien improved his game.

Josh Morrissey won’t speculate on a hockey life without Dustin Byfuglien, but gets intensely personal when ackowledging how his own rapid growth in the NHL has been due, in large part, to the enormous presence of his fellow Winnipeg Jets blue-liner.

"I miss seeing him every day at the rink. He keeps it light. He keeps it fun," Morrissey said Wednesday morning from Bell MTS Iceplex.

"We’ve developed a cool relationship over the last few years.

"He was one of the big reasons for me stepping in when I first got into the league, and over the years, we’ve become good friends."

Morrissey was part of a trio of Jets offered up to take questions on a report that Byfuglien, currently on a personal leave from the Jets, might be contemplating retirement. TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted early Wednesday that Byfuglien, 34, is believed to be taking the time to "ponder his NHL future."

The product of Roseau, Minn., who broke into the league full time with Chicago during the 2007-08 season and was a major force as the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, is in the fourth year of a five-year, US$38-million contract with Winnipeg. He’s on the books to make US$8 million this season and US$6 million next.

Byfuglien’s departure from the game would have a cataclysmic effect on the organization.

"Everyone knows what type of player he is, what he means to our team. We’d love to have him, obviously. But at the same time I totally respect what he’s got to do," Morrissey said.

"Each player has their own relationship with Dustin, and trying to respect him and his family. We just want to keep it private at this time."

Prior to Morrissey’s rookie season (2016-17), Byfuglien asked the coaching staff in training camp to pair him with the young defenceman — who’d come off a strong campaign with the Manitoba Moose.

"I want the kid," Byfuglien told Jets head coach Paul Maurice. "Put me with the kid." Or so the story goes.

When the season opened, Byfuglien patrolled the right side with Morrissey to his left.

"I remember countless times in the pre-season (and) even into the regular season, we got scored on or something and you come off the ice and you get this big hug from Buff or the arm over the shoulder, and almost knocks me off the bench, basically, because he’s so big," Morrissey said. "(He) just said, ‘Hey, welcome to the NHL. Now you finally got scored on, now you can just go play.’

"The one thing is he has a huge heart, he’s a great person. He really wants to help out his teammates. Again, when you’re coming in and you have a guy who’s won a Stanley Cup and had been in the league I don’t know how long it was at that point and had already been a top player for a long time, to kind of say, ‘Hey, I want to play with you, I want to help you get acclimatized getting into the league and feel comfortable,’ it means the world," Morrissey said. "It’s immediately a weight off your shoulders as a young player, and it speaks volumes to him and the kind of person he is."

Jets forwards Andrew Copp and Mark Scheifele had little to say about the possible retirement of one of the team’s alternate captains.

"He’s taking his time. The reasons behind that are very private, so I’m not going to comment on what those are. The organization put out a release saying that he needed some time, so we’re going to respect that," Copp said. "And we hope that he’s back soon. The reasons (for personal leave) are definitely a very private matter for him." 

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
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).

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