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Forget Parise

Jets fans expecting free-agency fireworks are going to be disappointed

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No matter what shade of blue Kevin Cheveldayoff's face may turn explaining the Winnipeg Jets' approach to NHL free agency -- the small sample of evidence from a year ago might best describe it as passive-aggressive -- there will be critics who insist it is, straight up, dead wrong.

But from the moment he was hired as GM in June of 2011 Cheveldayoff has stressed this organizational blueprint: build through the draft and augment, if possible, through free agency.

In other words, this crew won't be wheeling through the free-agent market -- which officially opens Sunday -- and spending like sailors on shore leave just to fill the empty sweaters. That approach worked, to some extent, for the Southeast Division champion Florida Panthers this past year but the Jets will continue to be calculated and conscientious shoppers.

So if fans are expecting the Jets to make a huge splash in the market and land a star like Zach Parise or Ryan Suter, they will be in a sour mood by the time the fireworks light up the sky at the end of Canada Day.

Now, all of this isn't to say the organization won't get involved. After all, not taking a stab at any of the top-end free agents in any off-season is not only bad business, it would doom the franchise to second-tier status. But, clearly, the Jets' sales pitch to Parise -- stable franchise with solid ownership and a rabid fan base close to his home state of Minnesota -- is significantly different than what Stanley Cup contenders like New Jersey, Detroit and Pittsburgh are selling.

So free agency, in some respects, represents a bit of a conundrum for the Jets.

Piling up money higher and offering longer-term contracts than any other potential free-agent suitor goes against their core business DNA. But the methodical build is hardly the sexy approach, especially when some of the Jets' Southeast rivals have already made significant upgrades this off-season -- Carolina Hurricanes trading for Jordan Staal, the Washington Capitals landing a second-line centre in Mike Ribiero and moving Dennis Wideman to free up cap space and the Tampa Bay Lightning attempting to address goaltending issues by dealing for Anders Lindback.

There's also this: not only do the Jets have holes to fill, they have to spend $11 million right now just to get to the new cap floor of $54.2 million And free agency -- as thin as the crop appears this summer -- does offer some potential immediate fixes.

Priority No. 1: Winnipeg wants to be a much harder team to play against in 2012-13.

"Our philosophy is to make our team better by making it bigger and perhaps a little bit more physical," said Jets' chairman and co-owner Mark Chipman this week. "One thing we learned for sure is how hard it is to win in this league. Most people would assume that, but once you get in you realize how much parity there is and how difficult it is to win on the road and how big teams are.

"That's our plan, not just on July 1 but long term: we've got to get bigger as a team."

All of that is available in free agency whether it is a short-term stop gap or a long-term answer. Getting more skill in their top six -- atop the summer's must-do list is to re-sign restricted free agent Evander Kane -- has to come through either a trade or patiently waiting for the likes of Mark Scheifele and Ivan Telegin to develop.

And if there is a player that fits their needs that won't cause them to blow their financial brains out, Cheveldayoff insists they Jets will be all-in with their approach.

"We're not really a team that's tire-kickers," said Cheveldayoff earlier this week. "If we're interested in a player, at whatever level it is, we'll make a serious effort to make it happen or try to make it happen."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

THE JETS GO TO MARKET

Players signed for 2012-13: 16

(Figures indicate 2012-13 cap hit)

Goaltender: Ondrej Pavelec ($3.9 million)

Defencemen: Dustin Byfuglien ($5.2 million); Ron Hainsey ($4.5 million); Toby Enstrom ($3.75 million); Zach Bogosian ($2.5 million); Mark Stuart ($1.7 million); Grant Clitsome ($1.25 million)

Forwards: Andrew Ladd ($4.4 million); Nik Antropov ($4.06 million); Blake Wheeler ($2.55 million); Bryan Little ($2.38 million); Jim Slater ($1.6 million); Alex Burmistrov ($1.5 million); Antti Miettinen ($1.35 million); Chris Thorburn ($866,667); Patrice Cormier ($854,166)

PAYROLL TOTAL: $42,367,959

BONUSES: $912,500

2012-13 SALARY-CAP CEILING: $70.2 million

2012-13 SALARY-CAP FLOOR: $54.2 million

JETS' CAP SPACE: $27,832,042

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: Evander Kane ($3.1 million), Spencer Machacek (NHL salary: $575,000; AHL salary: $75,000), Eric Fehr ($2.2 million; was not made a qualifying offer).

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (2011-12 salary):

F Tanner Glass ($750,000)

F Kyle Wellwood ($700,000)

F Tim Stapleton ($525,000)

D Randy Jones ($1.15 million)

D Mark Flood ($525,000)

G Chris Mason ($1.85 million)

G Jonas Gustavsson ($1.35 million)

A FREE AGENCY PRIMER

ENTRY-LEVEL PLAYERS

Players between 18 and 21 must sign entry-level contracts for their first three seasons (22- to 23-year-olds sign for two; 24-year-olds for one).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

A restricted free agent (RFA) is a player no longer at the entry level. Teams have the right to extend a qualifying offer to an RFA to retain negotiating rights, if no offer is made, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent. RFAs can be signed by other teams through an offer sheet. If that offer is not matched, the original team receives draft-pick compensation depending on the dollar value of the contract.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Any player whose contract has expired is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) if he is at least 27 years old or has at least seven years of service as an NHL player.

GMs, START YOUR BIDDING...

A look at some of the top UFAs available on the open market on July 1:

THE FRANCHISE CORNERSTONES

ZACH PARISE, LW, New Jersey Devils

2011-12 salary: $6 million

One of this year's prime free agent targets. Still just 27 and has averaged 35 goals over his last five full seasons.

RYAN SUTER, D, Nashville Predators

2011-12 salary: $3.5 million

These numbers a big, fat raise: 46 points, +15 and an average of over 26 minutes of ice time per night.

SOLID PIECES

JASON GARRISON, D, Florida Panthers

2011-12 salary: $700,000

How did this guy slip through the draft? Finished with the third-most goals among NHL defencemen last year with 16.

JIRI HUDLER, LW/C, Detroit Red Wings

2011-12 salary: $3 million

Sometimes lost among the star power in Motown, Hudler had 25 goals and 25 assists last year and has averaged 47 points over the past four years.

SHANE DOAN, RW, Phoenix Coyotes

2011-12 salary: $4.55 million

Now 35, he's still productive -- scoring at least 20 goals in 11 of the last 12 years.

FILIP KUBA, D, Ottawa Senators

2011-12 salary: $3.7 million

Veteran (35) D-man who had 32 points, was a +26 and gobbled up big minutes for the Sens.

KYLE WELLWOOD, C/W, Winnipeg Jets

2011-12 salary: $700,000

Hockey IQ is through the roof, but his skills unappreciated. Finished 5th on the Jets last year in scoring with 18 goals and 29 assists.

MATT CARLE, D, Philadelphia Fylers

2011-12 salary: $3.8 million

Just a good, solid defenceman who is just 27 and averaged 23 minutes for the Flyers.

PETR SYKORA, RW, New Jersey Devils

2011-12 salary: $650,000

Went 21G-23A for the Devils last year at age 35.

SCOTT CLEMMENSEN, G, Florida Panthers

2011-12 salary: $1.5 million

Better than you think: had a 2.57 GAA and .913 save percentage with a W-L-T record of 14-6-6.

RISK VS. REWARD

ALEXANDER SEMIN, RW, Washington Capitals

2011-12 salary: $6.7 million

No questioning his skill set, but he earned huge coin last year and seemed very disinterested. That's a lot of money for 21 goals and 54 points.

OLLI JOKINEN, C, Calgary Flames

2011-12 salary: $3 million

Once a 90-point man ('05-07), he still had 61 last year but seems to leave everyone wanting more.

P-A PARENTEAU, RW, New York Islanders

2011-12 salary: $1.25 million

Has scored 38 goals and 120 points over the last two years.

JORDIN TOOTOO, RW, Nashville Predators

2011-12 salary: $1.35 million

Has overcome so much, but does have some baggage. Energy guy.

ANDREI KOSTITSYN, RW, Nashville Predators

2011-12 salary: $3.25 million

Some skill here, but red flag popped up when he was out past last call in the playoffs.

DUSTIN PENNER, LW, Los Angeles Kings

2011-12 salary: $4.25 million

Big power forward when engaged emotionally and physically. And when he's not? He has nine goals over the last two regular seasons.

ONE LAST HURRAH?

(The 40-something or thereabouts club)

TEEMU SELANNE, RW, Anaheim

2011-12 salary: $4 million

Led the Ducks in scoring, has 12 power-play goals and is still getting it done at 41. Likely returning to Anaheim.

RAY WHITNEY, RW, Phoenix Coyotes

2011-12 salary: $3 million

The Coyotes' leading scorer with 77 points last year; now 40.

JAROMIR JAGR, RW, Philadelphia Flyers

2011-12 salary: $3.3 million

He's 40 and proved he still has game with 19 goals and 54 points last year.

MIKE KNUBLE, RW, Washington Capitals

2011-12 salary: $2 million

Veteran character-type guy.

TOMAS HOLMSTROM, LW, Detroit Red Wings

2011-12 salary: $1.5 million

Can still do his thing directly in front of a goaltender, but he's 39 now.

RYAN SMITH, LW Edmonton Oilers

2011-12 salary: $4.5 million

Can still score -- 90 goals in the last four years -- but is also 36.

STEVE SULLIVAN, Pittsburgh Penguins

2011-12 salary: $1.5 million

He's 37, but the Pens got good value from him -- 17 G, 31 A -- last year.

MARTIN BRODEUR, G, New Jersey Devils

2011-12 salary: $5.2 million

Proved in the playoffs he can still be dominant, even at age 40. But he's got a new agent in Pat Brisson and his return to the Devils is not a slam dunk.

*All salary figures courtesy capgeek.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 C2

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