IN his post-season analysis, Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said his team must get bigger in the future.
He and his hockey department have now deemed potential unrestricted-free-agent centre Jim Slater a good fit for that vision and signed him to a bigger contract -- three years for US$4.8 million.
"We talked a lot within the group with respect to the type of person that Jim is, what he brings to the table, his work ethic," Cheveldayoff said Wednesday in announcing the signing. "He's someone we feel very, very comfortable about bringing into our fold on a longer-term basis.
"He showed the commitment to us. He could have taken his opportunity to go to free agency, which players covet, and we showed a commitment to him."
So much so that instead of dispatching Slater, the modest six-foot centre who turns 30 later this year, at the NHL's trading deadline in February, a conscious decision was taken to try to keep the Lapeer, Mich., native around.
"We made a decision within the organization that he was too valuable to us at that point in time, that we would work hard at retaining him for the future," Cheveldayoff said.
The Jets can certainly afford Slater's raise. He made $1.1 million in the final season of his contract, the organization's first in Winnipeg after the Atlanta relocation.
Winnipeg was more than $10 million below the NHL's salary cap of $64.3 million. With it temporarily scheduled to go just above $70 million, even if it retreats some -- as many expect -- in the still-to-be-negotiated new CBA, there is room to reward those who performed.
Slater was the team's top faceoff centre, at 54.4 per cent, and averaged 14 minutes 45 seconds of ice time, mainly in a checking role on the GST line with Tanner Glass and Chris Thorburn. He also had a career-best 13 goals and finished with 21 points, also a high.
It was a solid bounce-back year after he missed the second half of 2010-11 in Atlanta because of a concussion.
Slater's grit was a big reason the Winnipeg chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated him for the Masterton Trophy in 2011-12. And when the Jets missed the NHL post-season, Hockey USA tabbed him to join its team for the world championship.
Slater said he felt good about his future in Winnipeg.
"I have commitment in this organization and the Winnipeg Jets, and having them give me a three-year deal definitely shows commitment right back," he said.
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