HE'S a cornerstone to their franchise, but the Winnipeg Jets might have some competition in their attempts to lock up goaltender Ondrej Pavelec with a new deal.
Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday night that Pavelec -- a restricted free agent come July 1 -- may be in contract talks with a team in the Kontinental Hockey League, hinting at a potential "one-year, big-money offer."
These rumours first began in April when the Free Press reported speculation out of the Czech Republic that the Slovakian-based HC Lev Poprad team was relocating to Prague, will play in the KHL and might be pursuing Pavelec.
As one of the Czech Republic's biggest stars, Pavelec -- who grew up in Kladno, near Prague -- would be a huge draw for the KHL and a team based in his homeland.
The Jets, not surprisingly, offered up a "no comment" when reached by the Free Press, but sources say GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been in contract talks with Allan Walsh, the Czech star's agent, and is trying to sign the 24-year-old to a new deal.
Walsh replied to an inquiry on the rumour Saturday night via email, offering a "no comment regarding the CBC report."
Pavelec was arguably the Jets' MVP in 2011-12, posting a 29-28-9 record with a 2.91 goals against average and .906 save percentage.
He just completed the final year of a deal signed in 2010-11 that paid him $1.3 million this past season and is looking at a hefty pay hike. As a restricted free agent, the Jets need only make Pavelec a qualifying offer to retain their negotiation rights to him.
But two factors are likely also at play here: 1. If the KHL is indeed an option for Pavelec -- and it most certainly is -- then this rumour certainly can't hurt his bargaining position in negotiating with the Jets.
2. The ongoing uncertainty about whether the 2012-13 season will start on time, if at all, means a RFA like Pavelec could play in the KHL during a lockout.
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-- with files from Gary Lawless