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Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff sheds light on the Dustin Byfuglien saga

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff talks about trade deadline day. Marek Tkach / Global News

The general manager of the Winnipeg Jets says he may have appeared to be frustrated during the long and drawn-out process that led to Friday’s agreement to terminate the contract of defenceman Dustin Byfuglien.

During a media conference call, Cheveldayoff said it was not being able to say anything publicly about the situation that began just before training camp last September and continued on for the next seven-plus months.

“I really couldn’t talk too much because of the things that were essentially behind the scenes with the Players Association and the NHL,” said Cheveldayoff.

But after Friday’s agreement — which saw the Jets essentially clear up $7.6 million in cap space for 2020-21 — Cheveldayoff was able to share most of the details that began with Byfuglien requesting a meeting on Sept. 11.

“He didn’t know if he had it in him to continue playing in the NHL,” recalled Cheveldayoff. “It was a very emotional time, and some of that will remain private.”

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Cheveldayoff says he brought up the suggestion of whether a trade should be discussed and Byfuglien’s response was that “it had nothing to do with a trade.”

The Jets GM went to Byfuglien’s house the next day (Sept. 12) for a follow-up meeting, he said.

But after the two talked about the situation a little further to see if there was a change of heart, it was decided to continue into training camp without #33.

Cheveldayoff says the next meeting took place was Sept. 21 at the arena.

There was another long conversation, where Byfuglien maintained he didn’t want to retire — but still didn’t know if he had it in him to play.

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However, by this time, Cheveldayoff had roster and salary cap decisions coming into play, so he advised Byfuglien he was going to be suspended, and “Dustin understood.”

Fast forward now to Oct. 3, the Jets season opener versus Jacob Trouba and the N.Y. Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

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Cheveldayoff says he was called by Byfuglien’s agent (Ben Hankinson), who had good news in that “Dustin wanted to play again” but not until he had ankle surgery.

Cheveldayoff says he had pretty much the same conversation with Byfuglien and his agent the night of the Jets home opener on Oct. 10 versus Minnesota. The operation took place on Oct. 23 and about six weeks after that Byfuglien began the rehab process prescribed by his surgeon.

That rehab continued until mid- to late-January when Byfuglien was supposed to start skating. And it was also right about that time that Cheveldayoff received another call from the agent. This time informing him that Byfuglien was not going to continue with rehab.

The ankle was healed, but Byfuglien was not going to play.

As the NHL trade deadline approached, more conversations were had about a possible “trade and play”, but Byfuglien did not change his position from not wanting to play.

That brings us back to Friday’s official end of the Dustin Byfuglien era with the 2.0 Jets.

“It was never our desired outcome or ending with Dustin,” said Cheveldayoff of the terminmation agreement.

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“If it was the Jets writing the perfect script, it would have ended with Dustin holding a great big silver trophy over his head at centre, with that great big smile of his.”

In light of the details revealed by Cheveldayoff, it could be interpreted to portray Dustin Byfuglien as the villain. But that’s not how Cheveldayoff chooses to see it.

“He played a significant role on our team for a long time. He played over 500 games for the Winnipeg Jets,” said Cheveldayoff.

“He really bought in. He bought a house here. He committed to staying long past the point that he had to.”

Cheveldayoff disagrees that Byfuglien’s legacy will be tarnished even though it would have been far more advantageous for the team to have been aware of his reluctance to continue playing, perhaps at the end of the 2019-20 season, or prior to the Entry Draft in late June or even before the start of free agency on July 1.

“To me, Dustin showed his integrity in the sense that he didn’t have it in him. He wasn’t just going through the motions and go out there and not be the player he wanted to be emotionally,” said Cheveldayoff.

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When it comes to Byfuglien’s legacy, Cheveldayoff will not think of the negative, but instead remember the big, hulking defenceman “grabbing two people out of a pile and throwing them around.

“The hit at centre ice on Stone from Ottawa. The big slapshot from the point to blast it by a goaltender.”

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg Jets Post Game Reaction – March 9'
Winnipeg Jets Post Game Reaction – March 9

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