Is Dustin Byfuglien thinking of hanging up his skates?
34-year-old is in 4th year of a 5-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien is believed to be using his time away from the team to ponder his career and possible retirement, TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie says.
The Jets unexpectedly announced last Friday that Byfuglien has been granted a personal leave of absence with no timeline for his return.
When asked about the retirement rumour, head coach Paul Maurice told reporters on Wednesday that he's respecting Byfuglien's privacy and won't comment on that or the reason for the leave of absence.
He said the team will make do with the fact that the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Byfuglin might not be in their lineup when the season opens on Oct. 3 and simply carry on.
"When a player's missing, you just do [what you can]. This was kind of mentally dealt with a week ago at the start of the [training] camp. We've still got 46 guys in camp," Maurice said.
"Dustin missed half the hockey season for us last year, so we're used to not having him in the lineup."
Neither the Jets nor Byfuglien’s agent Ben Hankinson responded to a request for comment.—@TSNBobMcKenzie
Byfuglien's teammates were equally tight-lipped about the rumours.
"I'm not going to comment on what those are," said centreman Andrew Copp. "The [Jets] organization put out a release that he needs some time, so we're going to respect that and hope he's back soon.
"The reasons [for the leave] are definitely a very private matter for him."
Josh Morrissey, who was often Byfuglien's defence partner on the ice, said the team misses the big man at the rink.
"He's an awesome guy. He keeps it light, he keeps it fun. Him and I have developed a cool relationship over the last few years and he was one of the big reasons for me stepping in when I first got into the league," Morrissey said.
"He has a huge heart. He's a great person. We'd love to have him, but at the same time, I totally respect whatever he's got to do. I think it's a really private matter and I'm just kind of going to leave it there."
Mark Scheifele also kept mum.
"It's his life and his family and I don't feel up to talking about that," the top line centre said.
Byfuglien, 34, who was drafted in 2003 by Chicago and started his NHL career in 2005, is in the fourth year of a five-year contract with the Jets.
He's under contract to earn $8 million this season and $6 million next season.
During his 14-year career, Byfuglien has played 869 games and collected 525 points (177 goals, 348 assists).
Injuries limited him to playing in just 42 games last season, in which he scored four goals and added 27 assists.
Team officials haven't offered much in the way of an explanation for Byfuglien's leave, other than to say he needs some time to work through some things and that there is no health concern.
"He's going to be fine. Everything's fine," Maurice said last week.
The team is already missing three other starting defencemen from last season.
Jacob Trouba was dealt to the New York Rangers while Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot signed with new teams in free agency — Myers with the Vancouver Canucks and Chiarot with the Montreal Canadiens.
They are also without young superstars Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, two restricted free agents looking for new contracts and not skating.
Laine stirred controversy on Tuesday, telling a Finnish journalist he is unhappy playing on the second line for the Jets.
He said "somewhere other than Winnipeg he would have the chance to play with the best players," said Pekka Jalonen, a sportswriter for Iltalehti, one of the largest newspapers and most popular websites in Finland.
If he can't be on the top line, Laine would like a more highly skilled centreman on the second line, Jalonen said.
The Jets face the Minnesota Wild in a pre-season game Wednesday night at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg.
With files from Ian Froese