Last week as the Jets made their trek through the U.S. North-East, there were a couple of rumors that had been floated that suggested Dustin Byfuglien was close to a decision on wither or not he’d play for the Jets in the 2019-2020 season. Those were shot down over the weekend when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Byfuglien’s agent Ben Hankinson had stated not to “jump to any conclusions” and stated that this situation isn’t going to end quickly.
Bob McKenzie was also on TSN 1050 and stated that reportedly Byfuglien didn’t skate or train all summer, likely due to his lingering ankle injury suffered during the season. (And also probably partly due to the fact that he may have considered himself done with the game and the Jets have wanted him to hold off on a final decision)
So with all that in mind, and given the current situation the Jets have had with their remaining defensemen, it’s a bit understandable that some Jets fans have started to ask just how long should the Jets wait on Byfuglien before going out and getting help to bolster the back end?
Look to Scott Niedermayer for an answer?
Going into the 2007-08 season, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer was coming off a championship season and at the age of 34 (same age as Byfuglien) was starting to contemplate retirement. He hadn’t had the major injury issues that Byfuglien had – his last five seasons saw him play in 75 or more games – but he was about to enter his 15th NHL season (again, like Byfuglien) and was nowhere to be found when the Ducks opened up camp the fall of 2007. Unlike Byfuglien, Niedermayer did speak to the press a few times during his contemplating, once joking that he was “50-50 until I make it 100-0” on making a decision. At the time he indicated he could come back and play half a season, or just sit the entire season out and come back the following year.
The Ducks suspended him – much like the Jets did with Byfuglien in that it was more of a formality than anything – and then waited until December when Niedermayer announced he’d be making his return. He played two more seasons after that half season before retiring in 2010
Obviously the 2007 Anaheim Ducks and 2019 Winnipeg Jets differ a little bit in that the Jets aren’t coming off a championship season. The Ducks also still had Chris Pronger, Mathieu Schneider and Francois Beauchemin as a solid trio of defenders to rely on until Niedermayer returned.
So while the Scott Niedermayer situation has a lot of parallels to the Byfuglien one, there were team factors that played a big part in allowing both the Ducks and Scott to be patient.
The Jets defense could use the help now
We all know of the upheaval the Jets defense went through this past summer. Jacob Trouba traded to New York, Tyler Myers signed with the Canucks. Two of the Jets top four gone and now Big Buff has made it three. The defensive turmoil has carried over into the season as Josh Morrissey has missed two of the four games due to what may or may not be a concussion and Nathan Beaulieu is out at least another three weeks.
Thankfully it’s not all grim news for the Jets as Neal Pionk has proven to not be as bad as his numbers with the Rangers last season may have suggested while Tucker Poolman and and a returning Sami Niku will continue to develop into their roles as full time NHL defenseman, and of course there has been the sudden emergence of rookie Ville Heinola who nobody expected to be as good as he’s been through the first week of the season.
The Jets could make a trade right now, but if Byfuglien does want to return, then there is his $7.6 million cap hit that will need to be worked back into the roster. The Jets at the moment have around $6.1 million in space available, but a trade for a middle pairing defenseman could take three to five million of that space up (not to mention the potential cost in the players needed to be traded away to acquire such a player)
The Jets defense without Byfuglien hasn’t been an outright disaster, but it still hasn’t been ideal and could use some help, the question is how long can (or maybe should) the Jets wait for either that help to arrive, or go out and find some?
We might not know the answer to that question until December if not later.