December 12, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
It's not hard to figure out what Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will be doing this off-season -- managing.
Cheveldayoff's Jets have 18 players who will become free agents on July 1, nine of them unrestricted.
More important will be several of the team's nine restricted free agents, including centre Bryan Little, right-winger Blake Wheeler and defenceman Zach Bogosian.
Cheveldayoff must fit it all together for 2013-14 under an NHL salary cap of $64.3 million.
To date, according to capgeek.com and including youngsters Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, Cheveldayoff has $37.2 million already committed to 12 players next season.
Change, for both accounting and performance issues, seems inevitable and will include raises and maybe even pay cuts.
Not surprisingly, there was some passionate case-making on Friday for Little and Wheeler, who combined with captain Andrew Ladd on the team's top line this season.
"I need those two guys," Ladd said. "Obviously two guys that I want back really bad, two guys I work really well with. Two guys who have been great for this team and were great for this team the whole year and were consistent.
"We hope we can get them locked up for a long time."
Even coach Claude Noel, who was bending over backwards in his remarks Friday so as not to be seen to be dumping off-season pressure to Cheveldayoff, made a pitch for Little and Wheeler.
"I think that they, as you can see, are becoming the foundation of our team," the coach said. "You've got good players. How important are they? Pretty important."
There wasn't a player Friday who said contract talks have started.
"Before, we were all just focused on trying to win games," said Little, who was paid a pro-rated $3 million this season for his 32 points in 48 games as the No. 1 centre.
"I definitely want to be back here. I've been with this organization since the start of my career so I want to see it through."
Little said he believes some change is coming.
"I don't know any year you have the exact same lineup the next season," he said. "There's probably going to be some guys who won't be here next year; we'll have a bit of a different team. But that happens every year."
Bogosian, who missed the first 12 and last three games of the season because of injury, said he couldn't say what the timetable on the upcoming negotiation would be.
But he left little doubt he's looking forward to the future here.
"Yeah. I've really settled in here and enjoyed my time," Bogosian said. "Whether it's two years or 8 years or 10 years, I'm going to enjoy playing here.
"I'm looking forward to that next step. The last deal was two years and I've had a fun two years here. I want to be part of the solution moving forward as far as getting into the playoffs and winning a championship."
On the UFA side, there seem to be more unknowns.
"Not a question for me," said Nik Antropov, 33, who's at the end of a four-year, $16.25-million deal. "It's up to management. We'll see what's going to happen this summer."
Antropov, who had six goals and 18 points in 40 games, said he'd like to come back.
"Absolutely," he said. "I do want to be part of this."
Finnish-born winger Antti Miettinen, who had three goals and five points in 22 games, figures a return isn't in the cards.
"Right off the bat I wouldn't assume so," he said. "It was a couple of years of underachieving so I would not expect that for me."
-- with files from Ed Tait
Restricted free agents (as of July 1):
Unrestricted free agents (as of July 1)
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 C2