Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets make play for free agents

Ladd and Wheeler receive qualifying offers from team

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It's not quite the green light for Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler to plunk down cash for digs in Winnipeg, but they do have some hard evidence now they are held in high regard by their new bosses.

The two restricted free agents received qualifying offers from the Jets on Monday, meaning the club has retained their negotiating rights. Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, both would receive offers for the same salaries they earned last year -- Ladd at $2.35 million; Wheeler at $2.2 million.

A player has the right to reject a qualifying offer and, if so, would remain a restricted free agent. But by making a qualifying offer the Jets have protected themselves should another team express interest. They can now match offer sheets from rival clubs or get compensation in terms of draft picks -- in both the cases of Ladd and Wheeler, it would be second-round choices.

It's uncertain whether Ben Maxwell and Zach Bogosian, also restricted free agents, received qualifying offers before Monday's 4 p.m. CT deadline. There are several rumours of other NHL teams interested in acquiring Bogosian, a 20-year-old defenceman already with 199 NHL games under his belt. A number of organizations, including the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames, make their qualifying offers public, but the Jets did not.

The qualifying offer for Ladd gives the Jets negotiating rights until July 15, said his agent Mark Mackay, as the club continues to work on locking up their captain and leading scorer to a long-term deal. He has already made a trip to Winnipeg after the announcement of the sale of the team and Mackay and fellow agent J.P. Barry met with Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and assistant GM Craig Heisinger Saturday in St. Paul after the NHL entry draft in the hopes of hammering out an agreement.

"We had a great discussion. Things are moving well," Mackay said Monday. "They've had their plate full and we understand that, but things are positive on both ends. This isn't normal because of the sale of the team and everything.

"We're going forward doing our due diligence, just as they are. We're negotiating in good will and our goal on both sides is to come to a contract."

Wheeler had 18 goals and 26 assists in 81 games last year between Boston and Atlanta. The 24-year-old right-winger was traded by the Bruins to the Thrashers along with Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik.

While Ladd and Wheeler received qualifying offers, two other players -- Rob Schrempf and Anthony Stewart -- did not and become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Stewart, in fact, announced the news via Twitter with the letters 'U.F.A'

Winnipeg has 15 players under contract totalling $35,941,666 -- leaving them over $28 million in cap space if they were to max out at $64.3 million. Jets management has already indicated it will be a mid-cap team, meaning they will spend in the $55-57 million range and inking Ladd, Wheeler and, possibly Bogosian, to new deals would chew up a lot of the available cap space.

The Jets have two notable players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 -- veteran wingers Radek Dvorak and Eric Boulton, both 34 -- while defenceman Freddy Meyer, also a UFA, has signed with MoDo of the Swedish Elite League.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2011 C3

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