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Jets teammates prepared to move on without Byfuglien

Defenseman hasn't played this season, reportedly could have contract terminated

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Dustin Byfuglien's status with the Winnipeg Jets remained unchanged Tuesday, but the veteran defenseman's teammates sounded ready to move on without him.

The 34-year-old has been suspended by the Jets since Sept. 20, a week after he asked them for a personal leave of absence on the eve of training camp. He was reported to be contemplating retiring, then had surgery on his ankle in late October.

Though the front office would not comment on a TSN report from Monday that the Jets and Byfuglien were working on terminating his contract, Winnipeg players spoke as if his time with them had ended.

"I think everybody knew [what] was coming," forward Patrik Laine said Tuesday. "He's been out half the year."

Byfuglien, who has been rehabilitating his surgically repaired ankle, has missed the first 53 games of the regular season.

The Jets (26-23-4), who host the Nashville Predators at Bell MTS Place on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; TSN3, FS-TN, NHL.TV), are tied for fourth in the Central Division with the Chicago Blackhawks and are three points back of the Arizona Coyotes for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.

"It's tough to see a guy go, but we've been without him all year so it's not like anything really changes now," center Mark Scheifele said. "Obviously he was an unbelievable player. And we wish him the best with his life, but nothing really changes in this room. It's still the same group. Nothing's changed.

Video: WPG@CAR: Scheifele, Laine team up for slick goal

"I really didn't know a whole lot until yesterday. I was just focused on the guys that are in this room. It wasn't really a problem to me. I try to focus on what I can control."

Laine said Byfuglien was a major figure for him in the Jets locker room during the forward's first three NHL seasons.

"It's unfortunate to see that kind of guy leave, but it's still his career and his life," Laine said. "It's obviously tough for the team, but we've been able to battle with these guys this year, even though he's not been here. That's got to be the same way in the future.

"[Byfuglien] was a huge part of this team and its success over the past couple of years and before even I was here. But if he doesn't want to play anymore, that's his decision."

If Byfuglien's contract is terminated, it could help the Jets ahead of the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, which is Feb. 24. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff told NHL.com on Jan. 7 his approach to deadline would hinge on status of Byfuglien, who is the fourth season of a five-year contract with an average annual value of $7.6 million. If the Jets terminate his contract, they could use that money toward other players.

"First and foremost, what will the availability be for me from [an NHL salary] cap perspective?" Cheveldayoff said. "And that will be greatly influenced by the Byfuglien situation and what [happens]."

Video: WPG@STL, Gm6: Byfuglien slams rebound by Binnington

Byfuglien has 525 points (177 goals, 348 assists) in 869 regular-season NHL games. He won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 before being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers on June 24 of that year. In nine seasons with the Thrashers/Jets franchise, Byfuglien has 416 points (122 goals, 294 assists) in 609 games.

In addition to missing Byfuglien, the Jets have used a revamped defensman group after the departures of Jacob Trouba via trade (New York Rangers), and Tyler Myers (Vancouver Canucks) and Ben Chiarot (Montreal Canadiens) via free agency in the offseason.

Not counting Byfuglien, Winnipeg has lost 207 man-games to injury this season. The injured players have included defensemen Tucker Poolman (seven games, lower body, out indefinitely), Carl Dahlstrom (six games, broken hand, out six weeks), and Nathan Beaulieu (13 games, lower body, activated from injured reserve Tuesday). The Jets have allowed 3.08 goals per game this season, tied for 18th in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers. 

Jets players said they won't let it affect them if Byfuglien's contract is terminated.

"This is not something we talk about on a day-to-day basis, that if he was back, he's going to go in this spot or that spot and we'll put this guy here and this guy here," forward Andrew Copp said. "We've got the group that we've got, and we've been together for six months now, and I feel like this is a resolution outside of our team. This is not something we worry about on a day-to-day basis at all."

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