December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Blake WHEELER'S new six-year, $33.6-million contract with the Winnipeg Jets is a pretty strong vote by the NHL team for the future of their first-line right-winger.
The feeling is mutual, Wheeler said Saturday morning.
"For me, it was virtually a no-brainer," the 26-year-old native of Robbinsdale, Minn., told reporters in a conference call when asked if he was at all tempted to try unrestricted free agency next summer. "I sat down with my agent, Matt Keator, this spring. He said, 'I have no problem being the guy to get you to UFA if that's where your heart is, if that's where you are, yada yada yada.'
"I sat there, looked him in the eye and said, 'This is where I want to be. I believe in what people like Mark Chipman, Chevy (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff) are doing and what everyone stands for, and especially my teammates.
"I have believed since I got here, and I've told you guys probably a million times that I believe we have what it takes to take it to the next level. This is just a part of that process.
"I really truly believe that great things are in store for this group."
Wheeler is coming off a season in which he led the Jets with 19 goals, and his 41 points were second only to team leader, captain and linemate Andrew Ladd.
He filed for salary arbitration for the third time in his career, and by arriving at his new deal on Friday night, beat the hearing with the arbitrator by three days.
In 2010, after his first two NHL seasons with Boston, he went to the hearing and was awarded $2.2 million for one season.
In 2011, not long after being traded to Atlanta and shortly after the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, he had a new two-year deal with the Jets worth $5.1 million.
"It (arbitration) has been a bit of a norm for me since I've been a pro," Wheeler said. "Having been through the process, it's not the best-case scenario. It's never fun to have to sit across the table from the people that are in charge and hear some things. While it's all business, you still don't like to hear those things all the time.
"I'm thrilled to have avoided that process. I don't think it's the end goal for anyone. It's a huge right for the players in our CBA and an important right, but at the end of the day, this is the preferred method to get a deal done."
Wheeler said that while he was not part of every discussion between Keator and Cheveldayoff and Jets management, he sensed no acrimony in the process in 2013.
"I think the reason we are where we are right now is that both sides wanted to get a deal done," he said. "Because of that, I think the nature of the talks were always cordial. I don't think there was ever any fire-spitting back and forth.
"What it came down to was finding the right numbers that worked for both sides. At the end of the day, both sides had to come together and go to a different spot to make a deal.
"At the end of the day, we saw me in the same light."
He said Cheveldayoff has always been "even-headed and cordial."
"I think at the end of the day, the sense that I got was that Chevy and (Chipman) really wanted me to be a Jet long-term," Wheeler said. "And I really wanted to be a Jet long-term, too."
There would appear to be ample reason for it.
Wheeler has fairly blossomed in Winnipeg into a version of a power forward. Apart from a very stressful start with the team in 2011 -- he didn't score until his 19th game with the Jets, and that drought saw his ice time go one night to 8:01, a Winnipeg-low for him -- and while not a huge banger/crasher type, Wheeler uses his size and speed to scare many opponents.
"I think I put more pressure on myself in the last couple of years," he said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself, coming from Boston, and being more of a third-, fourth-line guy... I know I thought I had more to give and I was given that opportunity in Winnipeg. I think my struggles at the beginning in Winnipeg were kind of a reflection of pressing too much, trying too hard.
"Now, having that vote of confidence from the franchise, I'm the kind of person that takes that and runs with it. Having faith put in me gives me life and energy to go out there and hopefully reach new heights.
"You can't downplay how much confidence can help a hockey player."
BLAKE WHEELER'S new contract, arrived at Friday night, comes with an average annual value of $5.6 million and leaves the Jets with just one NHL-regular restricted free agent left on the to-do list, defenceman Zach Bogosian, who is scheduled for an arbitration hearing Aug. 2.
Bogosian's signing, either by award or negotiated deal, will give the Jets 23 signed players headed for 2013-14.
Here's how the team shapes up in terms of the NHL's salary cap for the season (figures from www.capgeek.com):
NHL cap, 2013-14: $64.3M
JETS CAP PAYROLL TODAY, 22 PLAYERS: $58.06 million
JETS CAP ROOM REMAINING TODAY: up to $7.4 million, factoring in bonuses.
Bogo Jets' last RFA
BY signing Blake Wheeler to a six-year deal on Friday, the Winnipeg Jets increased the number of players they have locked up through the next three seasons to 10.
If they can arrive at a new, long-term deal with defenceman Zach Bogosian, the only restricted free agent remaining to be signed, that number could grow to 11.
Either way, Winnipeg's total in this department is among the highest in the NHL.
Here's a list of teams and number of players under contract through the 2015-16 season:
Philadelphia Flyers 13; Nashville Predators 12; Detroit Red Wings 11; Winnipeg Jets 10.
Florida Panthers 3; New York Rangers 3; St. Louis Blues 4; Calgary Flames 4; Buffalo Sabres 4; Chicago Blackhawks 5; Anaheim Ducks 5; New Jersey Devils 5;
Ottawa Senators 5.
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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 28, 2013 B3