NHL.com is sitting down with newsmakers leading up to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. ET. Today, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff discusses Dustin Byfuglien's leave of absence, Winnipeg's strategy ahead of the trade deadline, and Bryan Little's injury.
WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets plan to be prudent, not panicked, if they can find extra room under the NHL salary cap before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24.
That room would come if the Jets, as has been reported by TSN, terminate the contract of defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who has not played this season after asking for and being granted a personal leave of absence on Sept. 12.
Byfuglien, who has been suspended by the Jets since Sept. 22, has this season and next season remaining on a five-year, $38 million contract he signed Feb. 8, 2016. It's a salary-cap charge of $7.6 million this season and next. The 34-year-old had surgery on his ankle in late October.
"It's like if you've got money in your wallet, you don't necessarily go out and spend it on the first piece of candy that's out there," general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Monday about the potential increase in cap space. "You've got to make sure you're going to be buying something that will help you, whether it's a short-term buy or a long-term buy.
"In this industry, cap space is an asset ... but just because you have it doesn't necessarily mean you can automatically just pluck someone out of someone else's organization or free agency. There's got to be a fit for both sides."
The Jets (30-25-5), who are 5-2-1 in February, currently sit three points behind the Arizona Coyotes for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.
Do you have any more clarity on the Byfuglien situation today? What effect do you think the matter has had on the locker room?
"I'm not prepared to get into talking much about that situation until there's some sort of definitive direction on it. It just doesn't serve anybody any good until I can fully speak."
As the Jets try to qualify for the playoffs for the third straight season, they've been in and around the wild card all season. Will this change your philosophy with the deadline approaching?
"You're evaluating what's potentially out there. There has to be a fit and you have to have the requisite assets at your disposal to do anything. If you're going to go down those paths, it's generally a very expensive time of year when you're trying to make potential short-term changes. We'll see. It is busy. The last couple of deadlines we went big, so we'll see where we're at."
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That you went big the past two trade deadlines, acquiring center Paul Stastny in 2018 and center Kevin Hayes in 2019, does that make it any more likely or any easier for you to do something this season?
"We felt there were fits there in the past two years. They addressed the needs we had at the time. You just assess and act accordingly. I don't want to promise anything one way or another. We'll see how it unfolds."
There have been a lot of changes to the Jets going back to the offseason, and we've heard plenty of comments about simply staying in the fight, even with 250 man-games lost to injury so far. How would you assess your team's play this season?
"I'm pretty proud of this group, how they've stayed in the fight on a regular basis with all the changes and the unforeseen things that happened on top of the injuries. Those are part of the season, but the way they've handled and dealt with everything, I'm pretty proud of the group."
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You do have some recent clarity on veteran center Bryan Little, who won't be returning this season after sustaining a perforated ear drum when he was hit by a shot Nov. 5. Does his injury allow you any freedom to replace him short term?
"I think a lot of people outside the dressing room have [forgotten] about Bryan, but nobody has inside the dressing room. He's a big part of our group. When you're building your team and looking at it on paper, you can't foresee a freak incident like this happening. Your thoughts first and foremost go to Bryan the person and you want to make sure you're getting him the best treatment and information. I'm really thankful and fortunate that the medical staff has been so diligent in getting him that info so he can make the most informed decisions. And I'm real proud of how hard he has worked to try to come back this year. It shows a lot about him as a person, how dedicated he is and what the game means to him. What it may mean for the team ... you hear the mantra around the League, 'I'd like a center and I'd like a defenseman,' pretty much from 31 different organizations. We're obviously coming to a deadline and there's lots of chatter and talk. We'll see if there's a fit."