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Byfuglien remains on leave, Jets work around absence

Coach won't speculate on future of defenseman who is not at camp

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Dustin Byfuglien remains absent from Winnipeg Jets training camp on personal leave, and though coach Paul Maurice wouldn't comment on speculation about the defenseman's future, he did say the Jets are used to playing without the veteran.

"This was kind of mentally dealt with a week ago at the start of camp, and now I've still got 46 guys in camp and Dustin missed half the hockey season for us last year, so specific to him, we're used to not having him in the lineup," Maurice said Wednesday.

The 34-year-old had absences of 15 and 19 games because of ankle injuries after Dec. 29 last season and missed six games with an upper-body injury earlier in the season. He had 31 points (four goals, 27 assists) in 42 games.

On Wednesday, TSN reported Byfuglien may be using the leave to ponder his NHL future.

Tweet from @TSNBobMcKenzie: Dustin Byfuglien, currently on personal leave from WPG, is believed to be using the time to ponder his NHL future. I���m not saying Byfuglien is retiring; I���m not saying he���s coming back to play. Only that he���s contemplating his options and there���s no timetable for a decision.

"We know that when you have a player ask for some time, and privacy then is paramount in all these, you just open up to all the speculation. I understand that," Maurice said. "Our options are to be completely forthcoming and then open up the question-and-answer period or to do what is almost always done and explain that it's a private matter.

"So I get it, that if you're going to ask the 20 different permutations of what would cause a player to ask for the leave, but again, privacy is paramount, so I won't comment on any speculation."

The Jets are also missing restricted free agent forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, and Maurice said dealing with absences is nothing new.

"It all falls under that blanket you learn and are forced to learn over the course of every year: You have players missing. You just do," Maurice said.

The coach sought a silver lining with Byfuglien, Laine and Connor not in camp.

"So as much as you miss the guys out, and when your top end is missing, over time it's difficult to survive without those guys, you just keep in your mind that the guy coming in is all jacked about his chance," Maurice said. "You're always aware there's a threshold with that. It's more about the guys in the lineup, the belief you can win is critical on any given night, but if you're talking about two or three guys going down, the guys coming in, [their] enthusiasm for that opportunity far outweighs the fear that you may not be strong enough to win on any given night."

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