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Byfuglien absence from Jets remains 'status quo,' GM says

Suspended defenseman reportedly contemplating retirement

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

Dustin Byfuglien remains on a leave of absence from the Winnipeg Jets.

"Nothing really [new] at this point," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said of the defenseman while attending Winnipeg's final preseason game at the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. "I think it's still status quo but certainly again, something that we're keeping tabs on."

The Jets open the season at the New York Rangers on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, TSN3, NHL.TV).

Byfuglien has missed all of training camp after asking Cheveldayoff for a leave of absence for personal reasons on Sept. 12. The 34-year-old is reportedly contemplating retirement.

"Dustin is a big part of our family here," Cheveldayoff said at the start of training camp. "There's always an open policy for discussions. We always care about people of our family. One thing I will say, health-wise, everything is good for him and his family. But again, from our standpoint, we support Dustin and look forward to the resolution."

The Jets were also without forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor for their entire camp. Each was an unsigned restricted free agent.

Laine agreed to terms on a two-year, $13.5-million contract (average annual value $6.75 million) on Friday and Connor agreed to terms on a seven-year, $50 million contract (average annual value $7.14 million) on Saturday.

In an administrative move, the Jets suspended Byfuglien on Sept. 21 with Byfuglien's full knowledge.

Byfuglien met with Jets coach Paul Maurice on Sept. 19, but the coach didn't reveal the content of that meeting.

"I'm not making any comments, Maurice said Sept. 20. "He's got a life. I love the guy. I sat down and had a wonderful conversation with him yesterday and it was great. That's it."
Byfuglien had 31 points (four goals, 27 assists) in 42 games last season and eight points (two goals, six assists) in six Stanley Cup Playoff games. He missed 15 games from Dec. 31-Feb. 5 because of a lower-body injury and missed 19 from Feb. 16-March 28 because of a different lower-body injury.

"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.
Byfuglien's current absence has complicated Winnipeg's transition on defense.

The Jets were already going to start the season with three new defensemen among their top five, having had Tyler Myers (Vancouver Canucks) and Ben Chiarot (Montreal Canadiens) sign elsewhere as unrestricted free agents and having traded Jacob Trouba to the Rangers on June 17.

Byfgulien is entering his 10th season with the Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers after playing his first five NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. He has 525 points (177 goals, 348 assists) in 869 NHL games.

He has two years remaining on a five-year, $38 million contract (average annual value $7.6 million) signed Feb. 8, 2016. His salary would be $8 million this season and $6 million next season.

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