ST. LOUIS, Missouri - Dustin Byfuglien
is staying in Winnipeg.
The big defenceman signed a five-year extension with the Winnipeg Jets today, with an average annual value of $7.6 million.
“I’m excited to be a Jet,” said Byfuglien following today’s practice at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. “My family and I found Winnipeg nice and we’re very happy to stay here and sign this. I’d like to say thanks to (Jets owner Mark Chipman), the Jets, and (General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff). They’ve been good with me the whole time. Never really crossed my mind of going anywhere.”
Byfuglien has 15 goals and 32 points this season, and leads the Jets in shots (163) and ice time (24:14 per game). But while the 30-year-old brings immense value on the ice, Jets head coach Paul Maurice says Byfuglien’s value in the dressing room is harder to measure.
“Dustin is a guy who is connected to everyone in the room. .. Buff is kind of like a man of the people,” Maurice said. “He can go to the All-Star game and hang out with the best of those guys, and go for dinner with the fourth line guys and you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. He’s a real regular guy, because of that he has a connection to everyone in the room.
“Buff gives everyone the business. Coaches included. That’s a real strength when you’re an elite player.”
Cheveldayoff said conversations with Byfuglien’s agent took some time, but there was a lot of back-and-forth negotiating over the last few days as the deal came closer to completion.
“There’s lots of things that go into our thinking, our offers, at different points in time. This was something that between ourselves and Dustin’s representative that we could feel comfortable with,” Cheveldayoff said. “You never know what’s out there in free agency, so certainly we’re very excited that Dustin and us were able to come to the agreement we were with respect to the term and the money.”
“Going back and forth and seeing (Chipman) and (Cheveldayoff) walking around too and knowing that everything’s going. It was good but nervous both ways,” said Byfuglien. “You kind of want to smirk at them, but not (at the same time). I’m excited and I think they are too obviously.”
There is history between Cheveldayoff and Byfuglien. Cheveldayoff was an Assistant General Manager with the Chicago Blackhawks for two seasons, including 2010 when he and Byfuglien were part of the 2010 Stanley Cup winning team.
“Everyone knows Dustin on this team. Both on and off the ice, he’s a real character and important part to this group moving forward,” said Cheveldayoff. “The conversations we had with him and believing in the direction we were going certainly added to the excitement level of our part, realizing that we were going to get a deal done.”
That direction Cheveldayoff alludes to includes getting back in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and contending for the ultimate prize. Byfuglien says he already sees evidence of the organization’s commitment to that goal.
“We’ve got a good group of guys here that I’ve been with for a while now. Watching the process of everyone coming up, and who’s coming in the organization… I believe in what they’re trying to do here,” said Byfuglien. “You can’t win a Stanley Cup overnight. It’s a process and I feel that they’re in the right state.”
When the rest of the team heard the news near the conclusion of today’s practice, Byfuglien was mobbed by the blue, white, and red practice jerseys of his teammates. Talking about it later, number 33 could only smile about that.
“I guess it could have been worse, they could have skated away from me and left me by myself,” he laughed.
On a more serious note though, Byfuglien looks forward to settling down in Winnipeg, with the unpredictability of free agency behind him. After all, Winnipeg is just over two hours from Byfuglien’s home of Roseau, MN.
“That has a play in it too. It’s the closest I’ll get to playing at home,” said Byfuglien. “I’m happy to call Winnipeg home now.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com