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Eyes on the prize: Contract talks on back burner

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THOSE waiting on the Winnipeg Jets to announce a bunch of player signings over the next few weeks might not want to hold their breath.

The focus is on the playoffs -- for both players and management.

With the trade of defenceman Johnny Oduya to the Chicago Blackhawks Monday, the Jets now have eight players who are eligible to become unrestricted free agents this summer. According to Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, the club will not be negotiating with guys for the rest of this season.

No contract talk distraction and all eyes are on the task at hand: Getting into some spring hockey.

"We really haven't started any contract talks with any of our players in those regard," Cheveldayoff said after the NHL trade deadline Monday. "We wanted them to focus on the task at hand and our push. There's lots of opportunity to talk about contracts with both our RFAs and UFAs. I think at this point in time they want to focus on the opportunities that are in front of us in making the playoff push."

Those players eligible to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 include forwards Jim Slater, Kyle Wellwood, Tim Stapleton and Tanner Glass; defencemen Randy Jones and Mark Flood, and goaltender Chris Mason.

ALOHA ODUYA: For Oduya, he leaves one team in the middle of a playoff fight for another club that has a firmer grasp on a post-season berth.

Coming into Monday, Chicago was sixth in the Western Conference, five points out of ninth.

Oduya had mixed feelings about the trade.

"My initial thought is, for sure, excitement," the 30-year-old told "Any time you're in a position where you're battling for a whole year, you don't want to leave your teammates and friends behind, but I am excited to go to Chicago. It's just a good hockey town."

Hawks GM Stan Bowman said Oduya fits right in with what he wants from his club.

"Solidifying that back end has been something we've talked about for a long time and I think (Oduya) is going to bring a lot to the mix," Bowman told "Right now, we could use that experience. The way that he can skate the puck and make plays... I think he can eat up some important minutes for our defence and it's a crucial time for our team."

BEND, DON'T BREAK: Cheveldayoff said a few teams tried to get him to come off his trade-deadline plan Monday, looking for the first-year NHL GM to sweeten the pot on some deals or lower his high demands on others.

No dice.

"Lots of deals never happen," he said. "In fact, someone asked me a couple of days ago, 'Have you made any trades?' Yeah, I've made lots of trades, the problem is I just haven't told the other general manager yet.

"It's one of those things at the end of the day you want to improve your team and I feel very good about what we accomplished today."

NO BOGO: The Jets were without the services of Zach Bogosian against the Edmonton Oilers Monday night.

The defenceman has missed the last seven games with an upper-body injury. He did participate in the morning skate and looked pretty good doing so, but wasn't quite ready to get back into full action.

The 21-year-old suffered the injury in a Feb. 14 game against the New York Islanders.

Look for Bogosian to be back in the lineup against Florida Thursday night.

-- with files from Ed Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2012 D2

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