Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wheeler finds a home

Winnipeg right fit for winger, who gets two-year deal

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The raise was good. So, too, was the stability -- if that's the right word -- that comes from a two-year contract.

But Blake Wheeler put his name on a new deal with the Winnipeg Jets because of something bigger, something that isn't spelled out in all the legal mumbo jumbo and the fine print.

"This is about finding the right place," said Wheeler's agent Matt Keator, "a place that is going to give him enough ice time and opportunity. He's excited about the energy level and being back in a hockey market."

Wheeler's two-year contract will pay him $2.45 million this season and $2.65 million in 2012-13 and means he can cancel the arbitration hearing that was scheduled for early next month.

Most of all, the new agreement gives him a chance to continue in his attempt to establish himself as a Top 6 forward on a team desperately seeking more offence. Worth noting: after his arrival via trade from the Boston Bruins last February, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound right-winger spent a great deal of time on the Atlanta Thrashers' top line along with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little and had 17 points in 23 games.

Wheeler will speak to the media this morning via conference call, but did say this about the new deal via Twitter: 'Excited to sign with the Jets today. Can't wait for that home opener against the Habs!'

"It worked out well for both sides," Keator said. "It wasn't easy to get done because it was a two-year deal and we kind of grinded away on both sides. But in the end Chevy and I were able to put something together that made sense."

The agreement leaves the Jets with just one remaining restricted free agent: defenceman Zach Bogosian, with whom contract talks are continuing. Couple that signing with the announcement that six other restricted free agents in the organization agreed to their qualifying offers and the franchise has hit the salary-cap floor of $48.3 million.

Capgeek.com reports that with 24 players now under contract Winnipeg's cap total is now $49,684,166 -- 25th overall in the NHL.

The six other players signed may more likely be candidates for the AHL affiliate in St. John's, but the organization hopes the likes of Ben Maxwell, Arturs Kulda, Brett Festerling, Spencer Machacek, Riley Holzapfel and Kenndal McArdle will all make serious pushes for work with the big club when training camp opens in September.

The Jets have also brought back a familiar face in Manitoba Moose forward Jason Jaffray. A very productive scorer over parts of six AHL seasons in Winnipeg, Jaffray was loaned to the Moose late last season by the Anaheim Ducks on a rehab assignment and appeared in six regular season and 14 playoff games.

STAY TUNED: This could be the week the Jets TV and radio announcement is made official, according to industry insiders. TSN is said to be making a play for both the TV and radio contracts -- a spokesperson for the network refused comment Monday -- with Sportsnet the main competitor for the tube deal and CJOB working to retain the local radio rights to hockey.

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: WFPEdTait

The newest Jets

 

HERE'S the background on the six who have signed with the Jets:

 

Riley Holzapfel: Atlanta's second-round pick in 2006, the 22-year-old Regina product has yet to suit up for an NHL game. He had 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 68 games with the Wolves a year ago.

Ben Maxwell: A 23-year-old 6-foot-1, 195-pound centre who spent time with the Thrashers, Chicago Wolves and Hamilton Bulldogs last season. Originally drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round (49th overall) in 2006, Maxwell was traded along with a fourth-round pick in 2011 to Atlanta for Brent Sopel and Nigel Dawes.

Arturs Kulda: Latvian-born defenceman who turns 23 this month has spent most of his pro career with the Wolves. The former Peterborough Pete has appeared in just six NHL games and had five goals and 12 assists in 69 games with the Wolves last year.

Brett Festerling: A 25-year-old defenceman from Prince George, Festerling dressed for four different pro teams last year: playing one game with the Anaheim Ducks, 32 with the Syracuse Crunch, 16 with the Hamilton Bulldogs and five with the Wolves.

Spencer Machacek: Right-winger who appeared in 10 games with the Thrashers last year, but has been a very productive AHL player after scoring 23, 20 and 21 goals with the Wolves over the past three seasons.

Kenndal McArdle: Former first-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers was recently acquired for Angelo Esposito. The left-winger has appeared in 33 NHL games and will give the Jets some grit and toughness.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2011 C3

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