December 4, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
If the Winnipeg Jets' hockey brain trust has revealed anything over the last week while locking up Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler to juicy long-term deals -- and with a third, including Zach Bogosian, likely coming in the next few days -- it's this:
They sure as heck aren't afraid of commitment.
As my colleague Tim Campbell pointed out on the weekend, if Bogosian signs before his arbitration hearing, the Jets will have 11 players locked up through the next three seasons -- tied with Detroit for the third-most in the NHL behind Philadelphia (13) and Nashville (12).
That's a whole pile of coin and term signed over to a core that has yet to even qualify for the post-season in the past two to three years as a group together.
But these moves weren't based solely on what players such as Little, Wheeler, Kane, Pavelec and the like showcased over the last two winters in Winnipeg as much as on the hope they will be the core that helps get this squad into the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise's lifespan.
The signings also hammer home -- again -- the team's pledge to stick to their basic draft-and-develop blueprint. Actually, it's not so much a pledge as just the simple reality of operating in a market that will never be a prime free-agent destination or a landing place for marquee names with no-trade clauses in their contracts.
Those who live and work here -- including Little, Wheeler and Bogosian -- will rave about this town, but it remains a tough sell across the NHL.
Now, since the season ended, these pages have been filled with references to this summer being a chance for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to really put his stamp on the franchise, what with a good chunk of his roster having become unrestricted free agents.
While his handiwork has hardly been headline-grabbing, there is a small-scale roster transformation underway. Consider:
-- The holes on the right side of the depth chart have been plugged with the trades to land Michael Frolik and Devon Setoguchi.
-- The anvil-around-their-necks contracts to Nik Antropov and Ron Hainsey have expired, freeing up cap room to sign Little, Wheeler and possibly Bogosian.
-- The addition of winger Matt Halischuk bolsters an iffy bottom six.
-- On the downside, the loss of Alex Burmistrov to the KHL, even with the sideshow every press-box stint provided, thins an already shallow centre-ice position.
What should also be included here as part of a possible roster transformation is the belief -- perhaps expectation is now the more apt term -- that Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba will be ready to push for regular work with the big club when training camp opens in September. If those two former first-round picks make the big club, that would mean at least five new faces would be on the roster come October when the Jets begin play in the Western Conference.
Ultimately, that's when the Jets' blueprint -- and Cheveldayoff's off-season handiwork -- will be judged. Getting the likes of Little and Wheeler to sign last week may have been laborious, but it was an absolute must for the franchise. The other moves upgrade a forward group lacking finish.
Critical now is this core rewarding that faith by morphing into something other than spectators in the Stanley Cup derby. What's the old expression about commitment being an act, not a word?
"I have believed since I got here, and I've told you guys probably a million times, that I believe we have what it takes to take it to the next level," said Wheeler in a conference call Saturday. "This is just a part of that process.
"I really, truly believe that great things are in store for this group."
A look at how the Jets' salary cap figures (courtesy capgeek.com)
Toby Enstrom, D$5.75 million$5.75 million$5.75 million$5.75 million$5.75 millionUFA
Blake Wheeler, RW$5.6 million$5.6 million$5.6 million$5.6 million$5.6 million$5.6 million
Evander Kane, LW$5.25 million$5.25 million$5.25 million$5.25 million$5.25 millionUFA
Dustin Byfuglien, D$5.2 million$5.2 million$5.2 millionUFA
Bryan Little, C$4.7 million$4.7 million$4.7 million$4.7 million$4.7 millionUFA
Olli Jokinen, C$4.5 millionUFA
Andrew Ladd, LW$4.4 million$4.4 million$4.4 millionUFA
Ondrej Pavelec, G$3.9 million$3.9 million$3.9 million$3.9 millionUFA
Devon Setoguchi, RW$3 millionUFA
Michael Frolik, L/RW$2.33 millionRFA
Grant Clitsome, D$2.1 million$2.1 million$2.1 millionUFA
Jacob Trouba*, D$1.83 million$1.83 million$1.83 millionRFA
Mark Stuart, D$1.7 millionUFA
Jim Slater, C$1.6 million$1.6 millionUFA
Mark Scheifele*, C$1.56 million$1.56 million$1.56 millionRFA
Chris Thorburn, RW$866,667UFA
Paul Postma, LW$712,500$712,500RFA
Eric Tangradi, LW$675,000$675,000RFA
James Wright, R/LW$650,000RFA
Al Montoya, G$601,000UFA
Adam Pardy, D$600,000UFA
Anthony Peluso, RW$562,500$562,500RFA
NHL cap, 2013-14: $64.3 million
Jets' cap payroll today, 22 players: $58.06 million
Jets' cap room remaining today: up to $7.4 million, factoring in bonuses
Powered by Sports Direct Inc.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 29, 2013 ??65533