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Once it became apparent that the Winnipeg Jets were dead-set on signing defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to an extension, the only question was one of term.
The Jets and Byfuglien answered that question on Monday in announcing his new contract: $38 million, with a $7.6-million cap hit, over five years.
“This was something between ourselves and Dustin’s representative that we could feel comfortable with,” said GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.
What a win for the Jets.
“I’ve been here five years. From where started and where we’re at now, I don’t feel like we’re that far off,” said Byfuglien, via Illegal Curve.
Reports were that Byfuglien was asking for $55 million over eight years, which led to visions of an immobile 37-year-old Dustin Byfuglien with a $6.875 million cap dragging down the Jets like a rusty anchor.
So they pay a bit more against the cap – although how much more than what Byfuglien would have received on the open market can be debated – but can cut bait when he’s 35. In the meantime, they don’t cause themselves an even bigger problem, which was adding “replace Dustin Byfuglien” to a considerable “to-do” list before Winnipeg is ready to really contend.
And let's face it: This is an elite NHL free agent that wanted to play in Winnipeg in 2016. What percentage of players in the League fit that category?
“My family and I have found Winnipeg nice and we are very happy to stay here and sign this,” he said. “It never really crossed my mind to leave here.”
Byfuglien, 30, has recorded 32 points (15G, 17A) so far this season while appearing in all 52 games and sits in a tie for second amongst all NHL defencemen with his 15 goals. Byfuglien leads the Jets so far this season in shots (163), penalty minutes (78) and ice time (24:14 per game). The native of Roseau, MN, was named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, TN where he recorded a goal and an assist for the Central Division team. Byfuglien has been named to the All-Star Game in each of the last four seasons that the game has taken place (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016).
Byfuglien has been with the Jets’ organization for the past six seasons after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks on June 24, 2010 with Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Akim Aliu for Marty Reasoner, Jeremy Morin, Joey Crabb and first and second-round selections at the 2010 NHL Draft. Byfuglien has played 649 NHL games tallying 376 points (148G, 228A) and 755 penalty minutes. Byfuglien had a career-high 56 points (20G, 36A) with the Jets during the 2013-14 season and sits seventh on the franchise’s all-time scoring list with 267 points (93G, 174A). Byfuglien won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, including recording his first career playoff hat trick during the Western Conference Semifinals and registering a playoff career-high four point night (2G, 2A) in game five of the Stanley Cup Finals.
That there was any debate about signing Andrew Ladd over Byfuglien as both headed to unrestricted free agency was laughable. Scott Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press spelling it out last month:
I think the important thing here is when he is playing 5-on-5 the Jets spend more time in the opposition end. That is today’s game, whether you like it or not. His sometimes-fearless passing leads to many offensive forays, along with his ability to either lug the puck up the ice or work give-and-goes to create many chances on the opposition net.
Byfuglien also is among a handful of defencemen vastly superior in their ability to keep the puck trapped in the opposing zone, especially along the boards. He’s able to trap an attempted opposition out and turn it back or zip a pass across the blue-line to his partner as well as any. Any time spent in the offensive zone is gold, and the best defence possible.
Buff is fourth on the Jets in 5-on-5 possession this season.
Again, the money isn’t an issue. The Jets have a ton of cap space next season, even with Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele needing new contracts. (Both are going RFA, so barring an offer sheet the Jets can set the price.) Ladd leaving opens up $4.4 million. God willing they finally buy out Ondrej Pavelec, and that’s another cap savings, if they need it.
The issue was term. They didn’t have to give Byfuglien an extra three years. That’s huge. Like, Byfuglien-sized huge.
But now comes the hard part: Cheveldayoff building around this core and ensuring that this $38-million investment isn’t squandered on a middling non-playoff team. But that's what he's built so far.