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Jets dealing with Wheeler as arbitration gets closer

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BLAKE Wheeler still has to put his name on a new contract, but the right-winger and the Winnipeg Jets are at least still at the negotiating table and chatting.

Wheeler, who scored 18 goals last year with Boston and then Atlanta after being traded, is a restricted free agent heading to arbitration next month if he can't come to an agreement with the Jets on a new contract. He earned $2.2 million last season.

Said Wheeler's agent, Matt Keator, texting to the Free Press on Tuesday:

"Still talking. We agree to disagree on some points, but both sides trying hard to reach an agreement."

The former University of Minnesota Gophers star jumped straight from the NCAA to the NHL in 2008-09 and had 21 goals and 24 assists in his first season with the Bruins. Those totals fell to 18-20-38 a year later and he had 27 points in 58 games with Boston last season before being traded along with Mark Stuart to Atlanta for Boris Valabik and Rich Peverley. He had 17 points in 23 games with the Thrashers after the the deal.

The Jets have seven other players who are restricted free agents: defencemen Zach Bogosian, Brett Festerling and Arturs Kulda and forwards Spencer Machacek, Ben Maxwell, Riley Holzapfel and Kenndal McArdle.

 

DEPT. OF REDUNDANCY DEPT: It won't be official until December when the NHL's board of governors gets together to discuss divisional realignment, but the Jets will change divisions after this season.

That in itself isn't a news flash, but the story took on a strange new life Tuesday. Last week, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leopold told Minneapolis radio station KFAN his team -- along with the Jets -- would be part of the Western Conference's Central Division in 2012-13, along with Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas and possibly Columbus, with Detroit moving to the Eastern Conference.

That's not really a surprise, given the NHL said the Jets would have to remain in the Southeast Division this year, along with the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers, because the franchise transfer from Atlanta to Winnipeg happened late this spring.

What's odd is that six days after Leopold appeared on the radio station, a media outlet erroneously reported he had made his comments on Monday this week, sending the Twitter-verse aflutter all over again.

"Our division would include the Winnipeg Jets, us, the Blues, the Nashville Predators, the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks and maybe the Columbus Blue Jackets... maybe not, depending on if they go east or west. I am all in favour of that. I think that is a grand slam, home run, hat trick for our team," Leopold said last week.

"We're all Central Division now. All of our teams, except for Columbus, all of our teams will be Central Division. We'll play less teams in Canada. We will play every team home and away at least one time."

True to form, the Jets won't comment on Leopold's statement. Said True North spokesman Scott Brown: "Nothing has been confirmed. We're not going to comment on that type of speculation."

 

BEER NEWS: Molson Coors is now the official beer of the NHL after an Ontario court ruled in favour of the brewery following a long legal battle with Labatt. At the same time, Labatt did announce in a statement that Budweiser would become the official beer of the Vancouver Canucks, the Calgary Flames and -- ta-da! -- the Winnipeg Jets, effective this October.

 

THANKS, BUT NO THANKS: Ray Edwards, the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes' AHL affiliate in San Antonio last season, has turned down an opportunity to join Claude Noel's staff along with Charlie Huddy here in Winnipeg. Edwards will instead remain with the Coyotes organization as the head coach of the Portland Pirates, their new affiliate for 2011-12.

 

FEHR COMMENT: Eric Fehr, acquired by the Jets last Friday, has made no secret he loved Washington and playing for the Capitals. Landing back in his home province, though, helps soothe some of the sting of being traded.

"It was actually a shock to me," Fehr told Toronto's The Fan 590 on Tuesday. "I didn't really know I was really being shopped around or anything like that. I just got a call from the Caps GM, George McPhee, one day, and he told me I had been dealt, and he told me I'd been dealt to Winnipeg.

"Obviously I was sad when I heard I was being traded -- I have a lot of friends in Washington and I've been there a lot of years and I really enjoyed my time there. But when he said Winnipeg, that made it feel better pretty quick. This was just something that I think they ran out of room under the salary cap in Washington, and then some players were gonna get squeezed out and I was one of them. It's not like I was specifically saying I wanted to come to Winnipeg or whether I wanted to be moved at all. It was just something that they felt needed to be done, and it ended up working out for me."

 

PUCK STUFF: The town of Conception Bay South, N.L., which will welcome the Jets and Ottawa Senators for an exhibition game Sept. 26, will unveil details about the Kraft Hockeyville celebrations on Wednesday... Aspiring artists alert: Two more Jets logo contests have surfaced. Winnipeg radio station QX104 has launched one (see: www.qx104fm.com) and there are more than 100 entries at a contest being held by www.hiretheworld.com... Former Thrashers head coach John Anderson has been hired by the Phoenix Coyotes as an assistant... Check out our new Jets blog, Lift Off, at winnipegfreepress.com.

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

 

Around the NHL

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2011 C2

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