Dustin Byfuglien (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
Winnipeg Jets blueliner Dustin Byfuglien is entering the final year of his contract, and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to make a decision about the future for his big defenseman. If the Jets want to re-sign Byfuglien, it could come at a high price, as he could seek a raise on the $5.2 million cap hit he has in 2014-15.
A number of notable NHL stars, including Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar and Carolina's Eric Staal, are eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency. The longer those players go without re-signing this summer, the more frequently their names could appear in trade speculation.
The contract talks of Stamkos, Kopitar and Staal could generate headlines in the coming season, but it's the status of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien that's become the hot topic through an otherwise quiet summer in the NHL rumor mill. Thanks to the speculation of internet rumor bloggers, the 30-year-old blueliner garnered some media attention in early-August.
Most of the rumors linked Byfuglien to the Boston Bruins, who have a big hole to fill on their blueline after trading Dougie Hamilton to Calgary in June. CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty recently downplayed the notion of the Bruins acquiring Byfuglien, citing the potentially high asking price from the Jets.
It's believed Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hopes to re-sign Byfuglien and left winger Andrew Ladd, who is also eligible for UFA status next summer. So far, however, there's no indication Cheveldayoff is close to inking either player to new contracts.
Stoking the Byfuglien rumors is the Jets reputation for keeping their payroll well below the league's cap ceiling. They enter the upcoming season with a cap payroll of over $57.5 million, well below the league maximum of $71.4 million.
Byfuglien and Ladd aren't the only Jets due for new contracts next summer. Key players like defenseman Jacob Trouba and center Mark Scheifele are restricted free agents and will seek significant raises. Other pending UFAs who must be re-signed or replaced include defensemen Grant Clitsome, Jay Harrison and Adam Pardy.
Of this group, Ladd is probably Cheveldayoff's priority. His skills, leadership and experience would be sorely missed. Trouba and Scheifele will obviously be re-signed, likely at some point next summer.
Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun's observes the Jets have considerable depth on defense, with nine rearguards under one-way contracts for 2015-16. He suggests they use Byfuglien to bolster their depth at forward.
Wyman also points out the Jets have a better record with Byfuglien at forward or out of the lineup than when he's patrolling the blueline. He suggests they're better off without Byfuglien, especially if they can trade him for a decent return. Wyman acknowledges that won't be easy, citing Byfuglien's age and contract status.
It's unlikely Cheveldayoff moves Byfuglien now. The attributes that make him attractive on the trade market – his 6-foot-five, 265-pound frame, offensive skills, physical play and the versatility to play defense or forward – can help the Jets make a return trip to the playoffs next spring.
If Cheveldayoff does move “Big Buff”, it'll likely be near the trade deadline, when most of his $6 million salary for 2015-16 has been paid out. That move, however, will depend upon where the Jets are in the standings and their roster needs.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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