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Next up: free agent frenzy

Jets GM Cheveldayoff still has busy week ahead

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Portland�s  Chase De Leo (left)

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Portland�s Chase De Leo (left)

The weekend proved again that change comes slowly to the Winnipeg Jets.

Amid speculation GM Kevin Cheveldayoff might pull the trigger on a substantial roster change or two via trade in conjunction with the NHL draft in Philadelphia, the Jets simply made seven selections over the two days -- none of whom will be on their team in the fall -- and scurried home Sunday to ready themselves for a big week full of contract issues.

Expiring contracts will make numerous players free agents on Tuesday when the annual spending spree kicks off at 11 a.m.

The Jets have six unrestricted free agents: Olli Jokinen, Devin Setoguchi, Chris Thorburn, Adam Pardy, Al Montoya and Zach Redmond. Cheveldayoff indicated on the weekend he has had at least a conversation with each of the camps except Setoguchi's, though he has not indicated a preference for signing any of the other five.

All NHL teams were permitted to speak to, but not make deals with, UFAs starting in the middle of last week. The Jets have kicked the tires on some players around the league, including centre Paul Stastny.

Winnipeg also has seven restricted free agents of significance: Michael Frolik, Matt Halischuk, James Wright, Keaton Ellerby, Eric O'Dell, Ben Chiarot and goalie Michael Hutchinson.

All must be tendered a qualifying offer by today for the Jets to retain their rights. The team has filed for salary arbitration with Frolik, who is expected to be signed.

For next season, the Jets have nine forwards, six defencemen and one goalie, Ondrej Pavelec, under contract. That totals about $50 million in cap costs, leaving plenty of room for Cheveldayoff to manoeuvre under the new maximum, which has been raised to $69 million. The floor will be $51 million.

It's unlikely the Jets will go all the way to the cap maximum, since they have stated time and again they are a mid-range budget team.

It's also unlikely the team will be big spenders on Tuesday, when the cap ceiling increase alone creates about $141 million league-wide worth of new cap space for just the coming season.

League-wide, there isn't an abundance of elite players who will be available, meaning some good-to-average players will reap healthy rewards.

The Jets' forward and backup goalie positions are the most pressing for Cheveldayoff. It's still possible Montoya could return. Hutchinson, who played the final three games of the 2013-14 season for the Jets, might be a viable option but the team is expected to at least look around.

"We've got room to fill at forward," Cheveldayoff said after Saturday's draft. "We'll start addressing that as quickly as possible."

The Jets are surely in need of stronger players on their bottom two lines.

Based on the conclusion to last season, the team will have to build third and fourth lines with Dustin Byfuglien, Jim Slater, Eric Tangradi and Anthony Peluso, who are all under contract. The pressing need is at centre, where Jokinen could certainly remain in the picture.

Leading up to the draft, several league sources said Cheveldayoff was an attentive listener to pitches and inquiries from other teams.

Though he never confirmed it, some of those conversations involved at least power left-winger Evander Kane. Those sources indicated Cheveldayoff was only interested in fair hockey value in any potential deal and had little interest in dealing any of his established roster players for the future -- be that draft picks or prospects. Though it's been debated, the Jets have no appetite for positioning themselves to get worse in the short term and into a better spot for the bonanza many expect the 2015 draft to be.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 30, 2014 C2

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