Dustin Byfuglien granted leave of absence from Winnipeg Jets
Coach Paul Maurice says 'nothing sinister' behind leave, no timeline for return
The Winnipeg Jets will be without Big Buff for at least a little while — adding to a growing list of veteran players missing from the roster.
It was announced Friday that defenceman Dustin Byfuglien has been granted a personal leave of absence from the hockey team.
The news initially came out in a single sentence tweet with no reason given. Team officials didn't offer much more in a news conference later in the morning.
"Let's just put it this way, there's nothing sinister to it," said head coach Paul Maurice. "He needs some time and he was given that. He has a right to his privacy."
Asked if there is any reason the Jets organization or the fan base, with whom Byfuglien has become a favourite, should be concerned, Maurice added, "No, I think it's going to be well handled."
Maurice added there is no timeline for when he expects Byfuglien to return.
"He needs some time to work through some things. He's going to be fine, everything's fine," he said in an interview with TSN 1290 radio before the morning news conference.
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.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was equally cryptic about Byfuglien's leave, saying only that the team supports him and awaits "the resolution" of his personal matter.
"Dustin is a big part of our family here. You always care about people of your family," he said. "One thing I will say is health-wise, everything is good for him and his family."
Whatever the issue is, Byfuglien is dealing with it in Winnipeg, he noted.
'Quite a turnover'
Friday was the first day of Jets training camp and there are several other absences.
The team no longer has speedy forward Brandon Tanev, who signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins in free agency, or centre Kevin Hayes who was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
As well, young superstars Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine are two restricted free agents looking for new contracts and not skating.
"We've had quite a turnover, obviously. A lot of great guys, great players walked out the door," said Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who is going into his ninth season with the team and 12th in the league.
In that time, he has seen teams go through many changes but admits this year is "fairly unique."
"Ultimately, it's the nature of the beast and we as group can only control so much," he said. "We're here and we're gonna form a team. The question is who's a part of that team.
"We'll deal with that when we deal with it … that's really all we can do."
As for Byfuglien, Wheeler called him indispensable and looked forward to his return.
"He's an irreplaceable element to our team," he said. "What he brings on the ice is pretty recognizable [and] he's a really unique guy in the room for us — doesn't have many bad days, keeps it pretty light."
The Jets pre-season begins Monday in Edmonton against the Oilers. The first game of the 2019-20 regular season goes Oct. 3 in New York against the Rangers.