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Slow, steady wins the race

So long as finish line still several years away for Jets franchise

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Behind closed doors in the Winnipeg Jets’ free-agency war room — that place where deals are made and deals die — the organization’s stay-true-to-the-blueprint philosophy must have been occasionally tested over the last couple of days.

Yes, while crazy money has been tossed around to so many NHL free agents through the opening of the signing period, the Jets have seemingly resisted the urge to add some zeroes to the offers they were considering making to the marquee players on their wish list. And they undoubtedly had some juicy names on their radar screen as they attempt to find help at centre and land a top six forward or two.

Instead, they have added what would best be called depth pieces — Randy Jones, Rick Rypien and Mark Flood on Saturday; Tanner Glass, Derek Meech and Aaron Gagnon on Friday — while continuing to negotiate with their own restricted free agents, namely Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Zack Bogosian, to get to the salary-cap floor of $48.3 million.

So, just for the record, while the New York Rangers inked Brad Richards to a contract that will pay him $12 million in each of the first two years and $60 million total, the Jets have added six players that have cost them under of $5 million and brings their cap total to around $40 million.

Remember the new mantra for the organization: character comes first.

"It’s important. They did that in Van, too, by bringing in good people," said Glass, the former Canucks forward, in a conference call with the Winnipeg media Saturday afternoon. "And when you have good people in the locker-room you can’t wait to get to the rink and it makes for a good environment. Talking to (Jets) management, it seems like that’s part of their philosophy, too, to have good people first and foremost.

"It goes well with the people on the Prairies, too. I know my family is excited (he’s from Regina). It’s going to be good to be back there and with the kind of people I grew up with on the Prairies."

That’s a great answer the new bosses will absolutely love. Still, a team that finished 20th in goals last year and second last in goals allowed is also going to need to find some talented pieces in a market that always rewards top-level talent but is now offering up huge dollars to average players, too.

To that end, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Friday night the squad still had some irons in the fire and insisted that free agency doesn’t close after the weekend.

Worth noting, however, is that in addition to Richards another highly-sought centre also came off the market Saturday when the Toronto Maple Leafs signed former Buffalo Sabre Tim Connolly — the same guy who has been concussion-free four years but missed 80 games in ’06-07 and the entire ’03-04 season — to a two-year, $1.8 million deal.

Among the forwards remaining: RW Antti Miettinen (35 points with the Minnesota Wild last year); C Jason Arnott (17 goals with the Devils and Capitals in 2010-11 and Teemu Selanne (coming off knee surgery and, if he returns, most likely with Anaheim).

In Jones, meanwhile, the Jets have added a seven-year veteran D-man who has appeared in 326 NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings and 61 games last year (1 goal, 12 assists) for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 29-year-old product of Quispamsis, N.B. — who gained notoriety for his hit on Boston Bruins star Patrice Bergeron into the end boards in October of 2007, for which he apologized and was suspended — has signed a one-year deal worth $1.15 million.

Also added Saturday by the Jets were two familiar faces to Manitoba Moose fans: Rick Rypien, who returns to the organization that first gave him a shot in pro hockey, and defenceman Mark Flood, who had 11 goals and 29 assists in 63 games for the Moose last season. Rypien, signed a one-year deal with the Jets worth a reported $700,000 while details of Flood’s deal are not available.

Meanwhile, former Atlanta Thrashers forward Anthony Stewart — a restricted free agent who was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Jets last week — signed a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. As well, two other former Moose players found work: Alex Bolduc with the Phoenix Coyotes and Greg Rallo with the Florida Panthers while Nolan Baumgartner, the Moose captain last year, re-signed with the Vancouver Canucks.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

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