Winnipeg - Apr. 18, 2020: Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets mutually agreed to terminate the defenseman's contract Friday.
The move means Byfuglien is an unrestricted free agent, but it's not known if the 35-year-old has any desire to play in the NHL.
"Every player is different," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. "What goes into the mental preparation, what goes into the physical preparation of all these players for the rigors of a National Hockey League season is different. He's a family man; there's lots of sacrifices players have to make when their kids are young and different things like that that do weigh on them. Dustin played the game, and a lot of times played it on his own terms. This situation here, he did things on his own terms again."
Byfuglien asked the Jets for and was granted a leave of absence Sept. 12 and was reported to be considering retiring. He was suspended by the Jets on Sept. 20 for failing to report to training camp and missed the first 71 games of the regular season, which was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
"On Sept. 11 the conversation and the intent was that he had lost the desire to play in the National Hockey League," Cheveldayoff said.
Byfuglien, who had ankle surgery in October, was in the fourth season of a five-year contract with an annual average value of $7.6 million he signed Feb. 8, 2016.
Cheveldayoff said he considered trading Byfuglien before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24, but the defenseman said he did not have interest in playing elsewhere.
"Wasn't so much we decided we wanted to go in different directions, it was more just trying to see if this was about a trade," Cheveldayoff said. "I did ask Dustin that question back on Sept. 11, I asked him even again in October when we met. It was never about a trade. One last-ditch attempt before the trade deadline to see, 'Is it about a trade, do you want to go play somewhere else if I can make something happen here?' And it wasn't a situation where he said, 'I'll go here if you can trade me there.' It was, 'No, I'm content where I'm at.'"
The Jets will be able to use Byfuglien's salary cap charge this season and next season for other players.
Winnipeg (37-28-6) holds the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference, two points ahead of the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks. The Jets are in fourth place in the Central Division, two points behind the Dallas Stars for third.
Byfuglien's skill, mobility and physical play made him the Jets' most popular player almost instantly after the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg before the 2011-12 season. Byfuglien scored 363 points (102 goals, 261 assists) in 528 games for the Jets.
"He's got unique abilities," Cheveldayoff said. "It was interesting knowing him over the years and seeing the evolution of his game and understanding that there's players that have natural ability and natural grace, and that was Byfuglien. To see him on the ice and move around as he did and easy as he could and the skills he had, it's an interesting one. It shows his hockey sense and ability to adapt. And [Byfuglien] loved to play the game a certain way. He played it physical. He could intimate you with his size (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) but he wasn't a dirty player."
In 869 NHL games, Byfuglien scored 525 points (177 goals, 348 assists) and won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. He was traded by Chicago with defenseman Brent Sopel and forwards Ben Eager and Akim Aliu to Atlanta on June 24, 2010, for a first-round pick and a second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, and forwards Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb and Jeremy Morin.