Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets agreed to mutually terminate his contract Friday, potentially marking the end of a playing career for “Big Buff.”
The agreement ended a lengthy dispute between Byfuglien and the organization over his absence this season. Because there was no financial settlement as part of the termination, the defenseman walked away from the $14 million remaining on his contract with no guarantee he'll play again.
“This was never our desired outcome or ending with Dustin,” Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said on a conference call with reporters. “If it were the Jets writing the perfect script, it would’ve ended with Dustin holding a great, big silver trophy over his head at center ice and flashing that great, big smile of his.”
In reality, it ended seven months after Byfuglien told the Jets he'd lost the desire to play and following surgery in October to repair an ankle injury, which prompted a grievance filed through the NHL Players' Association and settled Friday.
It wasn't clear how much Byfuglien wavered about returning to play. Cheveldayoff broached the possibility of trading him on multiple occasions, and came away questioning whether a change of scenery would make a difference for Byfuglien.
Cheveldayoff said, “There’s only one person and one person only who can answer if he’ll ever play again, and that’s Dustin.”
Agent Ben Hankinson told The Associated Press by email that Byfuglien doesn't have anything to say and “will take some time to decide” on his future.
The 35-year-old Byfuglien patrolled the ice at multiple positions for 14 NHL seasons with a rare blend of size, skill and power. He hasn’t played since Winnipeg’s first-round playoff series last April, and is now an unrestricted free agent. It’s unclear when he would be allowed to sign with any team because the NHL’s season is on hold due to the new coronavirus pandemic.