Bryan Little won’t play for the Winnipeg Jets this season, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Friday.
The 32-year-old center was limited to seven games last season after sustaining a concussion in the preseason and then being struck in the side of the head by a shot on Nov. 5. He returned to practice in January and felt he was close to returning to the lineup, but further tests and medical advice prompted him to shut down his season in February, when he had surgery to repair a perforated eardrum.
“After consulting with all the doctors and getting all the information and taking the time to digest everything, it’s recommended by the doctors that Bryan Little does not play this coming season,” Cheveldayoff said. “And what that means to the future, that will be addressed at the appropriate times.”
Little had five points (two goals, three assists) last season, including scoring the game-winning goal in overtime in a 2-1 victory against the Calgary Flames in the 2019 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, on Oct. 26. He was not on the Jets roster for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, when they lost in four games to the Calgary Flames in their best-of-5 series.
Little has played his entire NHL career for the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers after being selected with the No. 12 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, scoring 521 points (217 goals, 304 assists) in 843 regular-season games and 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 27 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
He has four seasons remaining on a six-year, $31.746 million contract ($5.291 million average annual value) he signed on Sept. 14, 2017.
“We wanted to be obviously ultracautious with him with a head injury of that magnitude, and obviously that it’s taking this long, you owe that to him,” Cheveldayoff said. “He’s a special person and has been part of our family, came over from Atlanta, really planted roots here in Winnipeg when it came time to re-sign, and just loves the city and loves being part of this organization.
“It’s emotional. When you have conversations like we had with him the other day discussing this, you feel for him because he wants to play. He wants to play badly. But he has to make sure he puts his family and his health ahead of everything, and we fully support him 100 percent.”
To help fill the hole created by Little’s absence, the Jets traded defenseman Carl Dahlstrom and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft to the Vegas Golden Knights for center Paul Stastny on Friday.
It will be Stastny’s second stint with the Jets after they acquired him in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 26, 2018. That season, he had 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 19 regular-season games and 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 17 playoff games to help Winnipeg advance to the Western Conference Final.
Stastny has one season remaining on a three-year, $19.5 million contract ($6.5 million average annual value) he signed with the Vegas Golden Knights on July 1, 2018.