Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don't squander this one, Jets

Team should lock up stars long term

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There's a strong chance Winnipeg Jets' fans are consumed with the wrong subject this week.

Goalie Ondrej Pavelec has caused serious consternation about town regarding his May DUI charge and a later conviction in the Czech Republic, and further about who knew what and when with regard to his new, $19.5-million dollar contract for five years with the Jets.

What's not getting its due attention this week is the matter of franchise stability.

The offer-sheeting of defenceman Shea Weber into the wee hours of Wednesday night shines further light on an opportunity.

Not to acquire Weber, but to see what his current tale can mean to Winnipeg and its newly reborn franchise.

Yes, the future is uncertain when it comes to the labour machinations in the NHL. Things seem bound to change in some fashion, but presently, it's only guesswork as to how.

What is known is offer sheets or free-agent deals have gone a new way in the last 12-18 months. Long deals with lots of front money are making the news.

It's not realistic the Jets would be able to toss around this kind of cash and term to bring in players. But under the current rules, the term could be an ally for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.

It's clear he's thinking this way, having put Pavelec into a deal for five years. Now the team has its goalie for the next five, and key players Dustin Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd for the next four.

Before the rules change, don't the stories of Mike Richards, Brad Richards, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and now Weber suggest Cheveldayoff should be trying for longer?

If you believe they are the stars of the future, the young building blocks, wouldn't it make sense to try to get forward Evander Kane, currently a restricted free agent and in talks with the Jets, and defenceman Zach Bogosian, who will be an RFA again next summer, into even longer deals?

How about 10 years?

It is likely to cost extra cash, and admittedly, True North, in what's likely the NHL's smallest market, clearly has a ceiling on revenue.

But look at it this way. If Kane is a 30-goal scorer -- more than a few folks believe there's plenty of upside there -- then a $5- or $6-million long-term cap hit with some creative structuring up front looks pretty wise.

Same with Bogosian. And players who are quality players with that kind of cap hit would be very attractive to other teams if the need ever arose.

Of course, it's all easy to say and easy to throw other people's money around, and there's no guarantee players, in particular those mentioned, want to lock in that long.

Opportunity

Clearly, some like Parise, Suter and now Weber, want to move at first opportunity. That's always going to be a reality for smaller-market, budget-conscious teams.

It may not be right but don't think for a second the Jets won't be vulnerable to this in the future, whatever kind of franchise they build here.

The Jets, and others, can wait for the future, to see if their projected building blocks pan out. But that seemingly safe, low-risk strategy may wind up costing more, a lot more, later.

Future adjustments to the labour system may make things marginally better for the Winnipegs and Nashvilles of the world.

That seems pretty high-risk, too, given the history of the NHL.

No, the window is open for a short time here. Forget the blueprints of other franchises. If longer-term deals are at all possible, this is the time for the True North and the Jets to begin to author their own formula for stability.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2012 C2

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