For seven long months, hockey fans were left wondering and speculating on what would become of Dustin Byfuglien. We now finally know the fate of the 35-year-old one-time Stanley Cup champion as he and the Winnipeg Jets finally mutually agreed to terminate his contract today, ending months of turmoil for the team and the player. Now, for the first time, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is speaking publicly about the steps that led to the two sides parting ways. It all started with a conversation on September 11th, 2019, the night before training camp was set to begin.
"At that time he informed me that he didn't know if he had it in him to continue playing in the NHL. It was a very emotional time," Cheveldayoff said today during a conference call. "It's something that is still a private matter and it will stay private. It was emotional. It was tough on him to even come and talk to me."
There was some hope on October 3rd, as Cheveldayoff said Byfuglien's agent told him he wanted to return to action, but the blueliner wanted to have ankle surgery first. He had that surgery, but on January 3rd, Cheveldayoff says he was informed Byfuglien didn't want to play.
"At the end of the day, everybody has a choice," Cheveldayoff said. "Dustin's choice was to be true to himself and not put himself, and maybe the team and everybody, in a difficult situation. He didn't have it in him to continue to play. That's the most honest thing he could say."
This is where things get tricky. Byfuglien is now a free agent, cleared to sign with any team he wants. So is it that he didn't want to play, or that he didn't want to play for Winnipeg? Time will tell. Byfuglien has not made any announcement regarding retirement. Either way, it seems Cheveldayoff holds no ill-will towards Byfuglien.
"To me, the legacy is always going to be him grabbing two people out of a pile and throwing them around," Cheveldayoff said. "To me, the legacy is always going to be the hit at centre ice on (Mark) Stone from Ottawa. To me, the legacy is going to be the slap shot from the point to blast it by a goaltender.
"If we choose to focus on other things - that's everyone's choice. We live in a time right now that we all understand that things do happen that are unexpected. It's how we choose to move on. Dustin still remains, in my estimation, a tremendous person.
"We wish him, Emily, and their family nothing but the best going forward."