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Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking Down The Byfuglien Situation Which Could Be Headed To Arbitration

A few days ago when it was revealed that Dustin Byfuglien elected to undergo surgery without the Jets full knowledge or agreement, we knew there were some issues between the two sides and that things were likely to get uglier as Byfuglien’s agent, the NHLPA and the NHL were starting to get involved. During Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday night, we had some more light shed on the entire process by both Elliotte Friedman and former NHL General Manager Brian Burke.

Both videos are must-watch, but it’s maybe worth paying more attention to Burke’s as he provided some more insight and details into just what the end of season process entails and just why this situation is more complicated than it seems and why both the NHL and NHLPA are getting involved.

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Between the two videos there is a lot of information to unpack and it’s being mixed in with facts that the general public does know, pure speculation in some instances, and questions no one really has proper answers to, so let’s go over it piece by piece…

Fact: Dustin Byfuglien dealt with multiple injuries during the 2018-19 season.

Last season Buff missed multiple games over three different periods of the schedule for what we were told were three different injuries.

On November 27 Byfuglien suffered a concussion against the Pittsburgh Penguins which caused him to miss the next three games.  A little over one month later, Byfuglien was sidelined by an ankle injury that took place in a game against the Minnesota Wild on December 29.

He returned to the lineup on February 7 against the Montreal Canadiens, but only played in 10 of the Jets last 29 games. Five games after his return from the IR, Byfuglien was placed back on it as he was again sidelined with a “lower body injury” that head coach Paul Maurice stated “wasn’t related to the original ankle injury.”

Question: Did the Jets medical staff properly handle these injuries?

Going back to the concussion, Byfuglien was taken off the ice for a brief time during that game against the Penguins after showing signs of being disorientated and woozy, but was eventually allowed to return to the game. The following days Byfuglien was kept off the ice and subsequently placed on the IR for a concussion which raised multiple concerns and even had the league following up with the Jets and if they followed proper concussion protocols.

As for the ankle and “lower body injury” issues in the second half of the season, Maurice stated the two were unrelated, but he also originally put a very short time frame on the second injury that ended up costing Byfuglien another 19 games over the next month and a half covering the end of February and almost all of March. What was originally diagnosed as a minor injury that would keep Buff out for a few days ended up being as severe and lengthy as the original ankle injury earlier in the season.

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Speculation but pretty much fact: Byfuglien was less than 100% when the Jets season ended after the first round of the 2019 Playoffs.

Byfuglien returned to the Jets lineup on March 30 against the Canadiens and played in the last five games of the regular season. He then played in all six playoff games against the St. Louis Blues and averaged 25:41 of ice time. He was one of the best players on the ice for Winnipeg the entire series picking up two goals and eight points in the six games played. It’s kind of a cliche, but it’s hard to find a player that isn’t playing with some some sort of ailment or injury at that time of year, but it’s safe to assume that Byfuglien was far from 100%.

If it was still mid-season and the games were not as critical, would Buff have been on the ice? We don’t know.

Fact: All players undergo a end-of season physical which also applies to Byfuglien.

Dustin didn’t take part in the end-of-season press interviews, but he did take part in an end-of-season physical check up as all players do as outlined by Brian Burke in the video from last night. It was from that he was deemed “fit to play” by the medical staff and the diagnosis would have been signed off on by Byfuglien as well as the doctor (Presumably Jets Head Team Physistian Dr. Peter MacDonald) and athletic therapist (Jets head therapist Rob Milette).

Question: Just what exactly is “fit to play” and just how thorough is the physical?

This is where things start to get a bit messy and complicated.

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As Brian Burke speculates, Dustin Byfuglien was examined by the Jets medical staff and he assumes that he passed the physical without any issues and signed off on it, but what we don’t know is just how thorough was that examination? Were any tests done to follow up on the two(?) injuries suffered by Byfuglien during the season? Did Byfuglien disclose any details of how he was feeling or did he express any concerns that there still may be a severe injury that needs to be looked at?

Dustin was deemed “fit to play” during the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have an injury that needed to be treated or even operated on. We know hockey players will play with injuries all the time and consider themselves good to go even as they deal with broken bones and joint separations, so what exactly does “fit to play” mean and should it really be the bar set to clear a player at the end of the season?

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This will be where the focus of the NHL and NHLPA will likely be.

Fact: He was listed as a participant, but Byfuglien didn’t skate in this past summer’s “Da Beauty League” further adding to speculation that something was wrong.

Since it’s inception in 2015, Dustin has been an active participant in “Da Beauty League” which is an annual summer 3 on 3 hockey tournament ran in his home state of Minnesota. 2019 was set to be no different as Byfuglien was listed as a member of one of the six teams taking part, but he didn’t skate in any of the games which seemed very odd and added to speculation that he was ready to play hockey, but wasn’t fully healthy.

Fact but with questions: Byfuglien reported to Jets training camp on time and had discussions with Kevin Cheveldayoff about retiring.

It’s been stated by Elliotte Friedman multiple times and no one has come out to dispute it as incorrect, so it’s probably safe to assume that the talk of Byfuglien wanting to retire from hockey just before the start of the season is likely true. What we don’t know is what exactly caused Byfuglien to want to retire. Was it frustrations or concerns over his health? Was it due to frustrations with the Winnipeg Jets organization and or his coaches and/or teammates?

Speculation: The true timeline of events around that period.

Burke suggested that Byfuglien skated before or as camp started and was still feeling the affects of his injured ankle. After it was revealed that Buff had undergone surgery, the Jets stated that they knew a surgery was a possibility but hadn’t actually committed to it with Byfuglien.

This really all goes back to that end of season physical. How severe was Byfuglien injured? Did Byfuglien truly know? Did the Jets? At some point surgery was obviously discussed as an option, but was it first suggested by the Jets, or was it suggested by Byfuglien with advisement from an independent doctor? What was the Jets ‘reaction’ to the news and was there some dispute between player and team, and if there was just how big and contentious was that dispute?

Fact with some speculation: The NHL and NHLPA are now involved and likely have taken over.

As pointed out by both Friedman and Burke, the league and players association are now involved and will not hesitate to draw lines in the sand over this matter to protect their own interests and have told the Jets and Byfuglien respectively to no longer comment on the matter (which to be honest, with the Jets and Byfuglien having to been known for preferring to work in cones of silence, neither side will have no trouble doing).

From the league’s perspective, that end of season physical that the player signs off on protects teams from having to cover a player if he gets hurt on his own during the summer and the last thing the NHL wants is for players to feel as though they can sign off on that form and then show up at camp the following fall hurt and claim that it was related to injuries suffered in the previous season.

From the player’s side of things, they’ll likely point out that the end of season physical should not be considered comprehensive and that an injury can still remain even after all parties have signed off on the player’s health and shouldn’t disqualify the player from being properly compensated the following year, nor should it be a matter that an NHL club should be able to suspend without pay.

Hence the need for an independent arbitrator and likely a hearing of some sort needed to sort out this mess.

Questions: A lot left to be answered….

Will we find out what exactly happened to get us to this point? Will there be a report from the arbitration?

Of the two major injuries Byfuglien had last season, which one is it that seems to be the one affecting him now, and were there even two different injuries to begin with?

Is the Jets medical staff misdiagnosing injuries or improperly treating them?

Did Byfuglien screw this up by not fully reporting how he felt to the team’s medical staff and then acting on his own?

Did the Jets screw this up by not listening to Buff and/or being dismissive and not taking his medical issues seriously?

Will Dustin Byfuglien return to playing hockey? Will it be this season?

Will Byfuflien return as a member of the Winnipeg Jets? As Friedman suggested, is Buff wanting to return to the Jets? (He did report to camp on time.) Do the Jets want Byfuglien back? (Have you seen this team’s defense? They absolutely should.)

The next week or two could prove to be very interesting and hopefully we start getting some real answers.