Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets stick to their blueprint

Meech, Glass, Gagnon extent of free-agent purchases

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The Winnipeg Jets didn't swan dive into the free-agent pool on the first day of NHL fee agency, but they did dip their toe into the waters.

The Jets inked three players on Canada Day, Winnipeg-born defenceman Derek Meech, left-winger Tanner Glass and centre Aaron Gagnon. And while none of the above will be lumped into the class of the marquee signings on Friday -- Jaromir Jagr, Erik Cole, Ville Leino, Maxime Talbot, Scottie Upshall and James Wisniewski were among players to change uniforms -- they do provide much-needed organizational depth.

"It's been an interesting day. Certainly, lots of things have gone on in the league and it's kind of what everyone expected: it was going to be fast and furious, lots of dollars and lots of term," said GM Kevin Cheveldayoff Friday night. "In our situation here we want to build from within and we're going to look to surround some of the guys we have here now with some other pieces. We've got a good group of guys here we're going to grow together with."

It's worth noting the Jets were apparently in the fight for some of that talent, including Leino. But the club opted -- perhaps at times reluctantly, especially while the dollars were flying -- to stick to its organizational blueprint: build through the draft and from within, not by signing huge cheques in the free-agent market.

"We did get involved on a few things at different levels," said Cheveldayoff. "There were a couple of situations that would have been good for us, both on the money and the term side of things but for whatever reasons those things went in different directions."

The flurry of activity on Friday left the Jets still with a lot of dollars to spend to get to the salary-cap floor of $48.3 million. According to capgeek.com, Winnipeg is now last in payroll at $37,391,666 (not including Gagnon) but does have a number of key restricted free agents with which it is still negotiating, including Andrew Ladd, Zach Bogosian and Blake Wheeler.

Those chats took a temporary back seat while the team chased unrestricted free agents on Friday.

"The temptation (to spend) is always there," said Cheveldayoff. "It's one of those things where you can get in a situation where you make a bad deal for yourself and what's right for one team isn't necessarily right for another. But it's a long-term process that we are looking at here. July 1st is a different animal when it comes to the fast and furious signings and you can get caught up in it, but you have to really believe in the group of guys that you have and we really do.

"You look at the board and realize not everybody is going to be a July 1st signing. There maybe some guys you thought that wouldn't go (get signed) that did, but on the other side there's some guys that don't go and are still attractive."

Glass, 27, has played in 184 NHL games with Florida and Vancouver over the last four years. Originally drafted by the Panthers in 2003, he will earn $750,000 on a one-year deal with the Jets. He appeared in 73 games for the Canucks last year, finishing with three goals and adding seven assists.

The 25-year-old Gagnon appeared in 20 games for the Dallas Stars last season, but did score 14 goals and add 23 assists in 58 games with their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars.

Meech might be the most-intriguing of the Day 1 signings for the Jets, not just because he is a local product, but because he can play both defence and wing and was developed in the Detroit Red Wings system. Now 27, he spent all of last year in Grand Rapids and had contemplating playing in Europe before the Jets became an option. He signed a one-year deal worth $700,000.

"I'm really excited. I can't wait until September," Meech said. "Not in a million years could I have imagined this. I've been thinking about this since I told my agent to go ahead with this. To think that I'm going to be signing a contract with the Winnipeg Jets... it's a pretty unbelievable feeling. Growing up watching them as a kid and watching them leave the city and being heartbroken from that, to seeing them come back to signing a contract... it's come full circle for me.

"I'm pretty motivated to work hard this summer and come into camp and try to turn some heads, that's for sure."

Unrestricted free agent Radek Dvorak, who finished last year with the Atlanta Thrashers but was not in the Jets' plans, signed with the Dallas Stars while Winnipeg-born defenceman Cam Barker signed a deal with the Edmonton Oilers for $2.25 million

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

The newest Jets

DEREK MEECH

Pos: D/LW

Born: April 21, 1984

Hometown: Winnipeg

Drafted: 7th round (229th overall) by Detroit in 2002.

Notable: Has appeared in 126 NHL games over nine years as a pro... Won a Memorial Cup with Red Deer in 2001... Made his NHL debut on Dec. 7, 2006 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit... Has a Stanley Cup ring from the 2007-08 Wings.

TANNER GLASS

Pos: LW

Born: Nov. 29, 1983

Hometown: Regina

Drafted: 9th round (265th overall) by Florida in 2003.

Notable: Played college hockey at Dartmouth after starring for Penticton and Nanaimo in the BCHL... Signed with Vancouver in '09 after two years in the Panthers organization.

AARON GAGNON

Pos: C

Born: April 24, 1986

Hometown: Quesnel, B.C.

Drafted: 8th round (240th overall) by Phoenix in 2004.

Notable: Appeared in 58 games with the Texas Stars last year, scoring 14 goals and adding 23 assists; picked up two assists in 19 games with Dallas... A WHL West all-star in 2005 and WHL all-star in 2007... Won WHL Brad Hornung Trophy as the league's Most Sportsmanlike Player in '07... Played for Canada at the 2004 IIHF World Under-18 championships.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2011 C3

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