Rick Zamperin: The hole on the Winnipeg Jets blueline has become a crater

Byfuglien injured his ankle in a game on Dec. 29, 2018, and was out of the lineup for the next five weeks. AP Photo/Jim Mone

A lot can happen in a year in the National Hockey League — just ask the Winnipeg Jets.

A year ago at this time, the Jets were among the favourites to go all the way and win the Stanley Cup, their franchise first.

Not only did Winnipeg not even make it to the final (they were eliminated in the first round by the eventual champion St. Louis Blues) but their 2019-20 roster has been thrown out of whack.

WATCH: Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice on the possible retirement of Dustin Byfuglien

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Winnipeg Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice on the possible retirement of Dustin Byfuglien

Gone are defencemen Jacob Trouba (New York Rangers), Tyler Myers (Vancouver Canucks) and Ben Chiarot (Montreal Canadiens), who left Winnipeg in free agency this summer. Now, the thin blueline group has taken another hit.

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The team has granted Dustin Byfuglien a leave of absence as the 34-year-old reportedly contemplates his future in the sport.

If big Buff decides that he’s had enough of hockey, it turns the hole on the team’s blueline into a crater. In eight seasons with the Jets, Byfuglien averaged no less than 22:41 of ice time in a season. He averaged a wind-sucking total of 27:27 per game in 2016.

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This isn’t the only major issue for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. He also hasn’t re-signed restricted free agent forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, who are holding out of training camp as they look to cash in on big-money contracts.

There is some speculation that Cheveldayoff could trade Laine or Connor to shore up the team’s depleted defence corps, but I don’t think a decision of that magnitude will be made until Byfuglien reveals his next move.

The Jets still have a lot of talent on their roster — players like Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Connor Hellebuyck — but it is the players who are not with Winnipeg who are greatly missed.

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