Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cautious free-agent approach paying off

As a result, Jets could be buyers this summer

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BOCA RATON, Fla. -- While many of his GM brethren were blowing their brains out in free agency last July, Jets boss Kevin Cheveldayoff determined caution was required.

Cheveldayoff had a few determining factors that led him that way. First and foremost was a lack of intimacy with his own roster. But there were also many questions about the future.

The future, in particular how the salary cap will be altered by a yet-to-be-negotiated collective bargaining agreement, is still entirely unknown.

Whether salary spending goes up or down, Cheveldayoff finds himself in a comfortable position and not tied to any of the poorly constructed deals of last summer. Can you spell James Wisniewski? Great. Now try and swallow $5.5 million a year for five more seasons.

Along with the rest of the NHL's general managers, Cheveldayoff is here in South Florida for the next couple of days to mull the state of the game but the answers the game's bosses want aren't readily available.

Priority No. 1 for most GMs is how much money will they be able to spend when and if a new CBA is signed. For Cheveldayoff, being in charge of a less-than mid-cap organization gives him lots of flexibility going forward. If the cap does indeed come down as many expect it will, Cheveldayoff isn't tied to numerous deals with salary heft, which in theory could allow him to be a buyer in a new and less rich market.

Teams that are already committed to spending near the cap for the next couple of years will have trouble finding money to sign their own young players. Cheveldayoff will have no such worries.

The Jets have a number of unrestricted free agents they may or may not want to re-sign and two of the team's young stars, goalie Ondrej Pavelec and sniper Evander Kane are at the end of their entry-level deals and in line for major raises.

Cheveldayoff will be able to handle these expenditures and perhaps have room in his budget and the cap to try and improve his roster through free agency.

The Jets are a budget team but are far better positioned than others near the bottom of the league in salary. Winnipeg has ticket-revenue certainty for years to come and has exceeded its own revenue expectations.

If the right opportunity comes along to score a franchise-type player in a down market -- as this summer could well be -- Cheveldayoff may have less trouble getting the green light than some of his counterparts.

A lot will depend on the market. Last summer it grew hot as both the floor and cap rose and teams, depending on their station in life, rushed to meet a threshold.

There is speculation this summer's market will be much cooler. That favours an outfit like the Jets.

The salary floor and cap, which govern how GMs structure their rosters, are dictated by league revenues. This past season the players' share of hockey revenue was 57 per cent translating into a cap of $64.3 million per team.

Ownership wants to shrink that percentage and if the NFL and NBA can be used as examples, they'll be aiming for a number much closer to 50 per cent.

The yearly cap is normally announced just prior to the NHL Entry Draft in late June giving GMs a framework under which they can spend for the coming season and in free agency, which begins on July 1st.

This summer, the cap is expected to rise to somewhere in the neighbourhood of $69 million. That would give Cheveldayoff, with just over $51 million on the books this season, lots of room to manoeuvre.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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