After a lengthy and messy dispute, Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets have officially reached an agreement to terminate his contract, the NHL and NHL Players' Association announced Friday. He is now an unrestricted free agent, effective immediately, although he is not eligible to play until the 2020-21 season.
So, let's get right to the question everybody in Chicago is thinking: Should the Blackhawks explore bringing Big Buff back?
The simple answer is, sure, why not check in? But it's a complicated situation with several different layers.
First off, what kind of game shape is Byfuglien in? He last appeared in a game on April 20, 2019, almost one year ago to the day, which is the first caution flag. But since then, he underwent ankle surgery in October and, as of February, has yet to resume skating, which is more concerning. And because he won't be able to play if hockey does return this season, Byfuglien, who turned 35 in March, would go at least 16 months without participating in any sort of game action.
The second question is, what kind of contract would he be looking for? By having his deal terminated, Byfuglien walked away from $14 million ($8 million this season and $6 million next season), which either suggests money isn't the primary motive here and fit is, or he will do everything he can to recoup as much of that as possible in his next contract.
It should be noted that because he's now 35 years of age, Byfuglien is eligible for performance-based bonuses, so that kind of structure in his contract would provide some sort of incentive for the player and be less of a risk for the team. A potential comparable would be Corey Perry's one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Dallas Stars last summer that included an additional $1.75 million in performance-based bonuses.
From the Blackhawks' point of view, they're in a challenging financial position as it is given the legitimate concern of a flat salary cap for next season and the fact that pending restricted free agents, such as Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome, and unrestricted free Corey Crawford are due new contracts. So if there's a reunion to be had between the Blackhawks and Byfuglien, the latter would have to take the larger financial sacrifice.
The third question is, where would Byfuglien fit in the lineup? Obviously, you would make room for a player like him if you felt he could still perform at an elite level, but that's far from a slam dunk at this point. The Blackhawks are preparing to give Adam Boqvist and recently-signed defenseman prospect Ian Mitchell larger roles going forward, and adding an aging right-handed shot defenseman to the equation only complicates matters more.
But lastly, and most importantly, does Byfuglien even want to come back? John Shannon reported that Byfuglien has "no interest of playing hockey,” suggesting that his NHL career is likely over. It would be a bizarre way to go out, but everything else is moot if Byfuglien has no desire to put on skates again.
While it's fun for Chicago to think about Big Buff in a Blackhawks sweater again, the chances of that happening are unlikely.
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