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Jets grab Perreault to fill gap in middle

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NHL teams doled out nearly $500 million on Day 1 of free agency, mostly to a crop of decent to average players fortunate enough to have their contracts expire on Monday.

Even the Winnipeg Jets, who have never been a main player in the annual cash-feeding frenzy, got into the act, landing 26-year-old centre Mathieu Perreault for three years and $9 million in total when the Anaheim Ducks had no more room for them on their roster or their cap-accounting sheet.

The move likely means the end to veteran centre Olli Jokinen's days in Winnipeg.

The Jets also saw two of their unrestricted free agents go elsewhere on opening day. Defenceman Zach Redmond signed with the Colorado Avalanche and backup goalie Al Montoya went to the Florida Panthers.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, however, didn't commit to goalie Michael Hutchinson -- who played the final three games of 2013-14 -- as the team's new backup, at least not yet.

"(Hutchinson) has earned the opportunity to compete for the backup job," he said.

NHL free agency didn't end Tuesday. Now the teams -- especially the ones that didn't get in on big signings -- start to comb through charts and lists to find help.

The Jets, for instance, are still hopeful they can add a better-quality forward, Cheveldayoff said.

"We'd like to get another top-six forward," he said. "That's something we're still looking at. Again, are there some options out there? Potentially."

The plight of some teams at or over the $69-million salary cap is likely to come into play. Teams are allowed to be up to 10 per cent over the cap from July 1 until the last day of training camp.

"I don't know that you hear too many times 'value' on Day 1 of free agency," Cheveldayoff said. "There's always a little bit of, not letdown, but re-assessment of where things are at after Day 1.

"Part of the deep-breath period here that happens after this, I think, all of a sudden some teams might be getting some calls from their CFOs upstairs saying 'Hey, wait a minute, we like your July 1, but now we've got to take a look at where things are at.'

"There's lots of different things that you still have to factor into your budget or the cap as it comes along here. I expect there are going to be some phone calls. After the free agent period, everyone still wants to fine-tune their team."

Tuesday's bonanza included some rich deals.

Matt Niskanen, formerly of the Penguins, signed a seven-year deal with the rival Washington Capitals for $40.25 million. Centre Paul Stastny also went to a rival, from Colorado to St. Louis, for four years and $29 million.

Other lucrative signings included defenceman Brooks Orpik, also to Washington, for five years and $27.5 million, while goalie Ryan Miller went from St. Louis to Vancouver for three years and $18 million and left-winger Thomas Vanek landed in Minnesota for three years and $19.5 million.

The Jets, again, were not to be found in the rich district, but Cheveldayoff said he doesn't look at July 1 through such a lens.

"I don't know that it's a unique thing to Winnipeg," he said. "One thing you have here is tremendous competitive balance among 29 other teams. With the salary cap, even though some teams can find ways to spend greatly over the salary cap with respect to buyouts or structure of contracts and that, there still is that level of competitive balance that's there."

And it was here, like three other times in his press conference Tuesday, that the GM help up new coach Paul Maurice as an influential, successful coach who is a reason to like the Jets, no matter your vantage point. Cheveldayoff even said Maurice was a big reason pending unrestricted free agent Chris Thorburn returned to the Jets' fold late Monday with a new three-year contract.

"In our conversations, the one thing that keeps coming through is the name Paul Maurice in talking to a lot of different agents and players," he said. "We had actually had heard that when some of the players heard we might be talking to them, some of our current players reached out and said, 'You'd love our coach, you'd love our system and our situation about the organization.'

"That makes us proud."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2014 C1

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Updated on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 7:16 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds sidebar

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