Chris Johnson explains the story that's been buried until now, but my gut (Tom) says it's more complex than this
We are starting to gain a better understanding of why the Dustin Byfuglien situation is so “complicated.”
That was how Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff described things during an appearance on Hockey Night in Canada from the Heritage Classic last weekend, and since then the curtain has been pulled back ever-so-slightly.
Here’s what we know:
— Byfuglien recently underwent surgery on his ankle, where it was also discovered he had a broken bone in his foot.
— Byfuglien has expressed a willingness to resume his playing career once healthy after previously contemplating retirement.
— The Jets are taking the position that Byfuglien should remain suspended without pay until he is fit to play since he was cleared by doctors at last year’s end-of-season medicals and didn’t report to training camp for fitness testing in September.
Now, there are still a lot of important details unaccounted for. Exactly who told what to whom and when. And why, for example, didn’t Byfuglien just come to camp and avoid the team-issued suspension in the first place?
It’s easy to understand why this has become such an emotional situation for the parties involved.
Byfuglien was due to be the Jets second-highest-paid player this season and an important part of helping the organization move forward from a summer where it parted ways with defencemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot.
Then he caught management off-guard with the timing of his decision to sit out training camp and this more recent revelation that he’s experiencing further issues with his ankle. Now he wants to be paid?
Conversely, consider the player’s perspective: There is no disputing the fact the 34-year-old defenceman missed considerable time last season because of an ankle injury and made his way back just before the playoffs. Then he experienced discomfort when he resumed skating late in the off-season and required another procedure to continue his career. He wants his contract honoured during the recovery.
All signs point to a neutral arbitrator eventually sorting through this mess.
There is a significant amount of money at stake since Byfuglien was due to earn $8 million this season and it’s currently unclear if he’ll see any of it. There is also precedent to protect from the NHL’s standpoint since fitness-to-play protocol is covered under the collective bargaining agreement.
Byfuglien has 60 days to officially file a grievance, but the guess here is it won’t take that long. It’s probably not going to get any less complicated once he does, too.