Published 7:18 PM EDT Sep 13, 2019
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Veteran defenseman Dustin Byfuglien has been granted a leave of absence by the Winnipeg Jets and there is no timetable for his return.
As expected, restricted free agent forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor did not show up for the first day of training camp Friday as they seek new contracts, but Byfuglien came as a surprise.
“I met with Buff (Thursday) and we had some conversations, and in the conversations he indicated that he needed some personal time,” Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “We certainly granted it. Dustin is a big part of our family here. There’s always an open policy for discussions. We always care about people of our family. One thing I will say, health-wise everything is good for him and his family. But again, from our standpoint, we support Dustin and look forward to the resolution.”
The club did not say why the leave was necessary.
“Let’s just put it this way — there’s nothing sinister to this,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You start going down the list and then the process of elimination … he has his right to privacy in this.”
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Byfuglien, now 34, had four goals and 27 assists in 42 games last season, which ended with a first-round playoff loss to St. Louis. He has played in 869 career NHL games.
“He’s been an unreplaceable element to our team,” Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. “Obviously, what he brings on the ice is pretty recognizable. He’s a really unique guy in the room for us, doesn’t have many bad days, keeps it pretty light.”
The Jets are unsettled at the blue line anyway: They lost defensemen Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers during the offseason.
Wheeler said he wasn’t surprised Laine and Connor weren’t at camp because other players across the league are in the same situation.
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“Clearly, we’re a better hockey team with those guys in our lineup and, once again, as friends of theirs and teammate, you support them and you want them to capitalize on their value and come into camp excited about being here,” Wheeler said. “But the rest of it is out of our control and, to a large degree, is out of their control. It’s going to get dealt with and figured out and when it does, we’re going to give them a big, old hug and get them in the group and get them up to speed.”
Laine and Connor each played 82 games last season, both spending time on the top line with Wheeler and center Mark Scheifele. Laine, 21, had 30 goals and 20 assists. Connor, 22, fired in 34 goals and finished with 66 points.
Maurice visited Laine in Finland during the summer. There has been speculation about whether Laine wants to remain in Winnipeg.
“It never came up,” Maurice said. “We talked hockey and then we talked life and got to know him a little bit better and what he does away from the rink, what he has fun with. It never, ever came up that he didn’t enjoy being in Winnipeg or playing here.”