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Winnipeg Jets’: What’s Going on with Dustin Byfuglien?

Dustin Byfuglien remains out pondering his future. In the meantime, the Winnipeg Jets are scrambling trying to fill his void. What’s happening with the team?

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During the offseason, the Winnipeg Jets lost two defensemen. First, Jacob Trouba was traded to the New York Rangers for young defenseman Neal Pionk and the 20th overall draft pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Good news for the Rangers, and certainly a loss for the Jets. Still, not to worry – right?

Second, during the offseason, Tyler Myers signed as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks for five-years at $30 million for the duration of those five years. This was a salary cap squeeze the Jet’s couldn’t handle, but the Canucks could. Good for the Canucks. Still, no worry yet – right?

Everything looked okay even with these moves because the Jets still had tough-as-nails defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. Or so they thought.

Then, Everything Changed

Suddenly, the 2019-20 NHL season turned into a problem for the Jets, who heard just before the season’s opener that Byfuglien was taking a leave of absence. The reason? The hulking defenseman needed to ponder his NHL future. 

And, thus it stays. Byfuglien remains pondering his future in the NHL, or “weighing his options” as it’s been reported. When might he return? There’s not a timetable for a decision. The veteran is believed to “have lost his love for the game.” And that might be all she wrote.

Still, the Jets soldier on through the season with the hope that Byfuglien will regain his love for the game and will return to the team. All is not well on the Jets’ back end. In addition, the Jets have also lost a number of defensemen to injuries.

Do the Jets Know Something We’re Not Hearing?

On Wednesday of this past week, the Jets surprised most people in the league when they claimed defenseman Luca Sbisa off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks. The 29-year-old Sbisa, who was born in Italy, has kicked around the NHL for about 12 seasons and has played for five different teams.

He had signed a PTO with the New York Islanders before the season, but was cut just before the season. The Anaheim Ducks (for whom he had played for parts of four seasons) picked him up and then quickly put him on waivers so they could send him to their AHL affiliate in San Diego.

That’s where the Jets came in. They chose Sbisa off waivers because they needed a seventh defenseman. Speculation was that he might be sticking around for long because the team’s regular depth defensemen Tucker Poolman and Nathan Beaulieu might be coming back soon.

That said, it was reported that Poolman was fully participating in practice and would be ready for tomorrow’s game against the Calgary Flames. Still, Sbisa remains on the team. Why? One guess was that the Jets might be sending Ville Heinola back to juniors before he plays 10 games and uses up a year of his entry-level contract. He’s doing well and logging lots of minutes, but perhaps it’s a wise organizational move to keep him in juniors.

Where Are Things Now?

According to team insider Mike McIntyre, the move to pick up Sbisa off waivers appears to reveal one of two things. First, perhaps the Jets need more help on defense than anyone thought. Second, Byfuglien has decided that he might not be returning as soon as fans had hoped. 

If the second is accurate, this moves flies in the face of last week’s report by insider Darren Dreger that there was a growing sense that Byfuglien would be returning soon. No one knows for certain; however, the one way to read the Jets’ actions by claiming Sbisa off waivers suggests that there might be events going on within the organization than people know about.

We’ll soon see.

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