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Stuart's signing means long-term stability for Jets blue-line

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It's an old hockey adage -- a team can never have enough quality defencemen -- and the Winnipeg Jets are no different than any of their NHL rivals in coveting quantity and quality in their D corps.

But a quick peek at their depth chart in the wake of the Mark Stuart contract extension this week also reveals another fact: The organization isn't afraid to make a long-term commitment to those who want to do the same.

Signing Stuart to a four-year extension worth $10.5 million might have raised some eyebrows across the NHL -- he is a 29-year-old vet ideally suited to a third pairing -- but a lot of his appeal to the Jets comes from the intangibles that aren't always measured in the black and white of the statistics.

"He's exactly the man you want in the room when you are young as we are," said Jets coach Paul Maurice. "He's an incredibly fit fella who works hard off ice. He does all the hard things over the course of a game... he's willing to stick up for his teammates, he blocks everything, he plays at a complete compete level and he's the right man to bring a player like Jacob Trouba along and show him the way the game's being played.

"You have to be in the room and you have to be on the bench to get an appreciation for him. The camera's angle won't allow it. Stuie's not in the camera angle often after the puck moves past the blue-line. But you watch the hits that get finished after the play moves, he just does everything as hard as he can."

That kind of gushing evaluation can be found simply by going from stall to stall in the dressing room, too, where Stuart is one of the most-respected and beloved Jets. Stuart said he might have been tempted to test the free-agent waters this summer but he's fond of Winnipeg and, just as important, the direction he believes the organization is headed.

"There's definitely some appeal in unrestricted free agency, but for me, personally, I'm happy here, I've built relationships here and I have faith in the organization and in the guys in this room," he said. "It was really a no- brainer for me to stay. They showed great faith in me by giving me this deal. I'm humbled and really proud to be a Jet.

"For me as soon as I got here I fell in love with it. It reminds me a lot of home (Rochester, Minn)., it's close to home... my parents can drive up to games. I've gotten to know a lot of people in a short amount of time around the city and really have enjoyed my time here. And on the hockey side I'm really excited for the future. We have the right people here, especially in the front office and in ownership and the coaching staff as well. I think the future's bright."

What's interesting is how his new deal affects the Jets' depth, especially for the years ahead. The Jets have made long-term commitments to Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Stuart, have a gem in rookie Jacob Trouba and like the flashes shown by Keaton Ellerby.

But there is also some uncertainty along their blue-line with Grant Clitsome having had back surgery, Adam Pardy an unrestricted free agent as is Zach Redmond.

That means that while there are some names written in ink on the depth chart, there is still room for prospects in St. John's such as Brenden Kichton and Julian Melchiori and 2013 first-round pick Josh Morrissey.

Yes, when it comes to defencemen, another axiom never gets old for NHL GMs -- you can never have too much of a good thing.


ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 7, 2014 C4

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