Photo Credit: Billy Hurst/USA TODAY Sports
The status of key pending unrestricted free agents stars Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd is the biggest Winnipeg Jets story going this season.
There are a variety of other interesting Jets subplots – from how Connor Hellebuyck and Nikolaj Ehlers fare in their first taste of NHL action, to how the Jets sort through contract issues with pending restricted players like Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele – but how this small market (albeit successful) club opts to deal with Ladd and Byfuglien is a bigger, global-type issue.
Do the Jets believe in this core group of players? Are they willing to let one or both of Ladd and Byfuglien walk? These are easily the biggest questions facing this organization this season. And of late, this mammoth quandary has intersected with the availability of New York Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic – a Manitoba-born defenseman eager to play for the Jets. 
On Monday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman – who recently opined that the Jets re-engaged Byfuglien in contract extension talks in the context of getting their ducks in a row on the Hamonic front – suggested in a radio appearance on Sportsnet 960 that the Jets have offered the Islanders a Byfuglien for Hamonic swap. Obviously it wasn’t enough to convince the Islanders to do the deal.
Before we get into the meat of Friedman’s comments, which are reverberating around the hockey blogosphere on Monday morning, it’s perhaps interesting to note that the discussion began with Friedman touching on the status of the club’s negotiations with Ladd and Byfuglien.
“Byfuglien, the issue is term,” Friedman said of the big Jets defenseman’s status. “I’ve heard the Jets preference is to go three years, and if you’re Byfuglien and this is your last big contract you’re not doing that.”
Friedman went on to say that he believes negotiations with Trouba are having as big an influence shaping the Jets’ posture on this front as their talks with Ladd and Byfuglien. That’s fascinating context, and it segued into Friedman’s update on the Hamonic situation.
Here are those comments, as transcribed by Chris Nichols of Today’s Slapshot:
Which I don’t think is going to happen (a Tyler Myers for Hamonic swap). I don’t think that’s the deal that the Islanders want to make. I’m also not sure that’s the deal the Jets want to make. The one thing about Myers is his contract was pretty front-loaded. A lot of the biggest money, I think, was done early. Which is sort of like Hamonic, in the sense that Hamonic is three years at a good cap number, although his salary goes up to 4.9 the next four years. Myers’ deal, even though it was a long deal, it was heavily front-loaded, which is attractive to a team like the Jets that has money, but isn’t the wealthiest team.
I’m not sure that’s the deal – I think the Islanders were offered Byfuglien and they said no. And I understand why, because Byfuglien’s got no term left.
I think they’d love to have Trouba, but the Jets aren’t really there to do it. Myers, if it’s happened – I can’t for sure it has or hasn’t – I’m not sure that’s the deal either team really wants to make, to be perfectly honest. Hamonic is an edgier player than Myers. I think that might give you a bit of an edge in terms of getting him. But Myers is a solid player who is going to be a solid player for a long time. He might not be the elite, top-end defenseman that people were hoping he would be, but he’s a good player.
Personally I’m uncomfortable characterizing what Friedman said on Monday as a ‘report’. This was a frank and open discussion on the radio, but Friedman prefaced the sexy note about the Jets offering Byfuglien with the key phrase “I think”, which would suggest to me that this is an example of him giving his sense of where things stand, rather than him reporting confirmed information.
Friedman is a veteran report and he’s not just going to throw that out there without a good sense of the issue. I do think his comments still fall comfortably in the realm of opinion though, which we’d do well to remember.
If we assume that Friedman’s take is accurate though, and he’s without doubt one of the most reliable high-level reporters in the industry, it’s enormously interesting. 
We know Friedman believes the Jets gave a potential Byfuglien extension one last kick at the can recently, so the fact that about 10 days later Friedman is opining that term is the hold up on a potential deal and that the club may have offered the defenseman to the Islanders as trade bait for Hamonic, would suggest strongly that the club is preparing to move on without their best blue liner. 
That Byfuglien on his own isn’t valuable enough to net the club a player like Hamonic isn’t much a surprise, as we wrote last weekend
You’d certainly have to think that Byfuglien, on his own, wouldn’t be enough to net the Jets a player with a long-term, team-friendly deal like the one Hamonic is signed to. If this particular trade is proving difficult to make though, perhaps Byfuglien and a sweetener could get this thing done.
And for the Jets it may make sense, particularly if there’s no deal to be made with Byfuglien. If Byfuglien is going to walk after this season anyway, then turning his expiring deal into a really good first-pairing defender like Hamonic – even if Winnipeg has to add another significant asset to complete this hypothetical deal – isn’t necessarily a bad outcome.
There may be a deal to be struck yet between the Islanders and the Jets. That deal may still include Byfuglien. You can understand why New York would want a player with more control and term in return for a player like Hamonic, who comes attached to one of the most team-friendly contracts in the sport.
As for Byfuglien, he remains one half of the biggest Jets story of the year. If Friedman’s sense of this thing is on the nose, and I’d wager that it likely is, then it seems likely that Byfuglien’s days in Winnipeg are numbered. We’re also left to wonder whether his departure could be hastened by the Jets falling further behind the Big Five in the brutally tough Central Division. 
– with H/T to Pro Hockey Talk