The rhythm was often off-beat. Read MoreAn enigma to the end, Byfuglien will always be loved in Winnipeg — Winnipeg Sun
The rhythm was often off-beat.
The marching was far from an organized stride.
Dustin Byfuglien did his own thing.
It was his beat. His march. It only needed to make sense to him.
And just as his career began in an eccentric way — getting a phone call about rookie camp in Chicago and then going AWOL until someone from the Blackhawks organization tracked him down to get him there — it ended on a similar note.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone willing to walk away from $14 million. Even professional athletes, who’ve amassed vast amounts of wealth over their respective careers, often want to maximize those earnings before their body won’t allow them to any longer.
But one of hockey’s most entertaining and enigmatic figures seemingly didn’t care about all of that in the end.
Money, reputation, legacy — these things simply failed to compute in a logical way for a player shrouded in as much curiosity as Byfuglien is (or was, at this point).
Byfuglien did Byfuglien. 24/7. 365 days a year, and he didn’t let his guard down on a leap year, either.
That mystique is a big reason fans embraced him so dearly, and why we media types were always searching for more.
Surely, he knew that.
Fans learned much about the man in the way he carried himself on the ice. That’s how he communicated with them. He was merciless to his opponents — just ask Mark Stone or Roberto Luongo — and fiercely competitive.
But he was also a consummate teammate — just ask anyone not named Evander Kane. And it’s not just his most recent teammates that speak his praises, but also his former colleagues in Chicago.
The story about Byfuglien’s first rookie camp came from long-time Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith a few months ago. Keith’s memories of Byfuglien as a teammate were glowing.
On the homefront, he took Josh Morrissey under his wing.
Byfuglien was the family protector, a job he did admirably, and a job his teammates admired.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff spoke Friday of an emotional ending that began back in early September on the eve of training camp. The months-long saga came to an end 219 days later as the NHL, the NHLPA and the Jets announced the termination of Byfuglien’s contract.
That Byfuglien was emotional back then is certainly believable, and one wonders if the finality of today wouldn’t have elicited similar sentiments.
While there are parts of the game — the media, particularly — that Byfuglien never seemed to enjoy, he most certainly relished playing the game, playing in big games, and being a part of the team. And those around him enjoyed it, too. He had that infectious trait about him.
That seeped into the fan base here in Winnipeg. Supporters would have loved for Byfuglien to play forever. That just comes with the territory when you have a player as popular, and as effective, as the 35-year-old was for the Jets.
If Byfuglien’s career is truly over, he leaves the game having hoisted the game’s holy grail. He completed the goal most prominent among every player that’s stepped onto the ice in the National Hockey League.
He also wasn’t a flash in the pan. He played nearly 900 games. He played on the biggest stages the game can offer. He thrived in those moments, too, much to the chagrin of Vancouver Canucks fans, and others throughout his career.
Perhaps most importantly, he did so in front of a legion of fans he earned through playing the game the way he wanted to play.
And if there’s a lesson to take for any player, young, old, and in between, it’s just that: you can be yourself, and true to yourself, while at the same time being good at whatever it is you do in life.
Byfuglien went out on his own terms, and not everyone gets to say that.
And judging by the reaction to the comments from Cheveldayoff on Friday, it sounds like many, if not all, fans accept Byfuglien’s terms.
We don’t have the full story. We may never hear Byfuglien’s side in this whole ordeal.
But unless Cheveldayoff was fibbing, Byfuglien remained loyal to the Jets until his final day as a member of the organization. He didn’t want to be traded, even when asked multiple times. It appeared that it was Winnipeg or bust.
In the end, Byfuglien chose both.
While pain once again ripples through the city, this is the Byfuglien the fans know and love.
And love, they always will.