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The Winnipeg Jets put former captain Blake Wheeler on unconditional waivers to buy out the final year of his contract on Friday.

That was one of a handful of moves made by NHL teams to clear salary cap space with big-money buyouts on the eve of free agency.

"It has been my absolute honor and privilege to be a Winnipeg Jet, to represent this city and represent this organization," Wheeler said in a video to Jets fans posted on social media by the team. "My family and I can't thank you guys enough. ... Winnipeg is always going to be a home to us."

Wheeler's average annual value for the 2023-24 season was $8.25 million, according to the Canadian Press. The buyout was expected after Wheeler looked to be on the outs in Winnipeg for some time.

Coach Rick Bowness stripped Wheeler of the captaincy last year in an attempt to fix the locker room culture around the Jets, and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff had been looking to trade the speedy former Gophers and Breck winger, who turns 37 on Aug. 31.

The Jets lost in the first round of the playoffs in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights. After the final game, Bowness said he was "so disappointed and disgusted right now," adding: "This series we had no pushback. Their better players were so much better than ours, it's not even close."

Afterward, Wheeler said players didn't appreciate Bowness criticizing players through the media. "I thought that Rick had an opportunity to address us as a team. And you know, because now we have to answer that question, right?" Wheeler said. "He could have been honest with us. We could have had those discussions behind closed doors."

Wheeler was the last remaining Jets player to have played with the Atlanta Thrashers before the team became the second version of the Winnipeg Jets. The No. 5 pick in the 2004 draft by the Phoenix Coyotes — the team that the original Winnipeg Jets became in 1996 — he didn't sign after three seasons with the Gophers and instead became a free agent before signing with Boston.

The Bruins traded him to Atlanta in February 2011, and the team relocated to Winnipeg that summer.