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Exit meetings could be final goodbyes

Unrestricted free agents may be gone for good

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Olli Jokinen said he was pleased with the role he played on the Jets this season.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Olli Jokinen said he was pleased with the role he played on the Jets this season. Photo Store

They're called exit meetings and they are as standard across the National Hockey League as playoff beards, pre-game siestas and smelly equipment.

A coach sits across the table from a player and they discuss the season past, what's ahead, what needs to change and what worked. They can be as dull as dirt or -- if a player is heading into free agency as six members of the Winnipeg Jets are -- the conversation can be as riveting as a seventh-game thriller.

The half dozen Jets scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 are forwards Olli Jokinen, Devin Setoguchi and Chris Thorburn, defencemen Adam Pardy and Zach Redmond and goaltender Al Montoya.

And while many of them expressed an interest in returning to the Jets, none is a slam dunk to be wearing the same uniform next fall.

"I think we've got a good thing going here with (head coach) Paul (Maurice)," said Jokinen. "I'm in a position now where it's wait and see. It's up to management, pretty much, with what they want to do. To me, it's business as usual.

"I'm happy. I think I was able to bring my game to a level where it needs to be. I was happy with the role I had. When you get older you want to change your game and you don't necessarily have to get 20-25 minutes of ice time. I was able to move up and down in the lineup and fill my role this year."

Jokinen's case to return might be the most compelling, seeing as he finished fifth on the team in scoring and the organization remains thin at centre.

Montoya, meanwhile, offers a stable answer to the No. 2 goaltending spot even with Ondrej Pavelec under siege as the top puck stopper.

"I felt like it was a good year," said Montoya. "Obviously we didn't make the playoffs, but from my part I'm happy with the way the game went. I played my most games (as a starter) and enjoyed it.

"This was about setting myself up for a situation, doing what I could do on the ice and then letting the rest take care of itself. I do love it here. I like this group, I like the way this team is going. This is where I want to be. So, we'll figure it out in the next few weeks hopefully."

A role player such as Thorburn is always looking over his shoulder. As much as he is a popular 'glue' guy in the dressing room, any organization has to be constantly looking for possible upgrades to its bottom six forwards, either through promotion from within the system or free agency.

"It sucks the way it happened (being injured at the end of the season)," said Thorburn. "Obviously you want to play out your contract year right to the end and I wasn't able to do that. But, at the same time, there's ways I was able to accept it where the two plays I got hurt on were things that you do for the team (blocking a shot and fighting). As far as that goes, that's how I get peace of mind out of it.

"Going forward, I'm fresh, I've got a lot of hockey in me and we'll see what the summer brings. I'm the kind of guy who tries to stay positive. Hopefully everything will work out. I'm nervous, but I'm kind of excited to see what the future has in store."

And there's Setoguchi, who was nothing short of a major disappointment this season after coming over in a trade with the Minnesota Wild. The Jets were his third team in four years and there's an expectation he'll have a new address next fall.

"This was a little bit of a struggle this year for me," said Setoguchi. "Obviously it wasn't up to the standards I would have liked to have had it. There's a lot to reflect on for the summer.

"This year was an awkward year for the team as a whole. The coaching change mid-year... having Paul around definitely elevated a lot of guys. He's a great coach who is looking for a new future with this team and a lot of guys want to stay here and be a part of it.

"That's a lot of stress going from team to team. A lot of things progressed this year that I didn't plan on. I'll take some time and evaluate things, have a great summer and get back to the way I want to be."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

You be the judge

A look at the Jets players who become unrestricted free agents this summer and the case for and against the club re-signing them before July 1:

OLLI JOKINEN

  • His numbers: 82 GP; G: 18 A: 25 Pts: 43
  • The case for Jokinen: Decent numbers for a third-line centre. Has size and gives club options at a position still thin throughout the organization.
  • The case against: As fit as he is, there's no hiding from the number on his birth certificate -- 35. He was expensive ($4.5 million) and a return for anything longer than one year might block the progress of a prospect such as Adam Lowry.

DEVIN SETOGUCHI

  • His numbers: 75 GP; G: 11 A: 16 Pts: 27
  • The case for Setoguchi: Tough one. Impossible, actually. The Jets were hoping the veteran winger could recapture some of that 20/30 goal magic during his days in San Jose. And it was 11 goals and some stints in the press box instead.
  • The case against: Pulled in $3 million this year and the deal for him cost the Jets a second-round pick this summer. Ouch.

CHRIS THORBURN

  • His numbers: 55 GP; G; 2 A: 9 Pts: 11
  • The case for Thorburn: Very popular, will-do-anything-to-win player.
  • The case against: There are guys like him out there. And the Jets already have a lot of players who can take on a variety of roles -- tough, gritty dudes, those with faceoff expertise -- on the fourth line.

ADAM PARDY

  • His numbers: 60 GP; G: 0 A: 6 Pts: 6
  • The case for Pardy: The Jets' defensive depth has been tested in each of their three years in Winnipeg. He's a big body, a vet and a guy who understands his role.
  • The case against: He's a third-pairing D-man and there are guys in St. John's such as Julian Melchiori and Ben Chiarot, along with Mark Stuart, Grant Clitsome, Keaton Ellerby, Paul Postma who could take those minutes.

ZACH REDMOND

  • His numbers: 10 GP; G: 1 A: 2 Pts: 3
  • The case for Redmond: Clever puck-moving defencemen with skill are always in demand.
  • The case against: He turns 26 this summer and while he hasn't played a ton in the NHL, that is a factor. And, as is the case with Pardy, the Jets have options.

AL MONTOYA

  • His numbers: W-L-SO: 13-8-3; GAA: 2.30 Save %: .920
  • The case for Montoya: He's comfortable as a No. 2 guy. Gave the Jets excellent minutes and the team seems to play well in front of him. His stats were better than those of Ondrej Pavelec.
  • The case against: See: Hutchinson, Michael.

-- Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2014 C2

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