December 6, 2019

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Jets coach insists contract talks not a distraction for team

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Come to work, punch the clock, do your job. And when the horn sounds at the end of the day, head home and get ready to do it all over again.

And so, as far as Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg Jets are concerned, the notion of the uncertain futures of players like Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien — both of whom are unrestricted free agents next summer — causing any kind of distraction inside the dressing room is pure bunk.

Dustin Byfuglien, left, and Captain Andrew Ladd at practice Monday morning.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dustin Byfuglien, left, and Captain Andrew Ladd at practice Monday morning.

"Their future is absolutely not uncertain because they’re playing tonight and they’re getting paid today, they’ve got a contract, they’re Winnipeg Jets," said Maurice after Tuesday’s game-day skate in advance of tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues. "Any thoughts or mindset beyond that – the distraction question – it’s my job to make sure this team is focused enough about the game tonight. As you will find, more veteran players that have been through it once understand the process and don’t take it maybe as personally as younger players do. They have the ability to do that. They’re not getting kicked out of the league. They’re probably looking at a pretty exciting future and they’ve got a game tonight.

"The more veteran a player is in that leadership group the better his ability to do that on all those distractions, whether it’s contract, injuries, just had a baby… whatever it is that veteran players get used to going through, they’ve proven to be able to handle those distractions and that’s usually why they’re contracts are what they are."

The distraction issue surfaced again Tuesday after Free Press hockey writer Tim Campbell reported that Byfuglien, Ladd and Jacob Trouba – a restricted free agent next summer – are seeking new deals that would cost the team in the neighbourhood of $152 million. Ladd is said to have asked for a six-year deal worth at least $41 million, Byfuglien is seeking $55 million over eight years and Trouba wants more than $56 million over the maximum eight years.

"It’s inevitable there’s going to be contract years, that’s part of the game," said Blake Wheeler. "If you ask them, our job is to play hockey. We’re not agents, we’re not management. We’re here to get a job done and the better we do our job the better we get compensated.

"I don’t think it’s much of a distraction at all. If anything, it’s made fun of a little bit when you have those conversations. It’s not a big deal because more often than not guys are going to be at or near a contract year. There aren’t a whole lot of long-term deals where you aren’t up for a long time."

Made fun of a little bit?

"It’s just some jokes here or there," said Wheeler with a grin. "If they want to rent one of your houses where you have other places… stuff like that. You can’t control it. All you can control is how you play. I know it’s a cliché, but at the end of the day when there’s a line to sign on you sign it and you move on. That’s really all there is to it."

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

 

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