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This article was published 24/4/2015 (2368 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There are some potentially mammoth holes on his roster and some major challenges in filling them.
But Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff believes his sales pitch — both to his own pending unrestricted free agents and those that will hit the market this summer — now has a lot more meat on the bone.
Ultimately, it’s always about the dollars a GM piles up in front of a player and his agent that is pivotal in sealing a deal, but now Cheveldayoff has some proof the blueprint is working here in the National Hockey League’s smallest market.
He can point to a passionate fan base that wrapped itself in glory — and white — during the playoffs, to a deep prospect pool, and to the fact the organization is widely regarded as on the rise, not treading water or sinking to the bottom of the standings.
"The sales pitch probably got a lot easier in a lot of respects," said Cheveldayoff Friday during his season-ending address to the media. "We talk about the atmosphere, we talk about the passion, but there’s no better sales pitch than what we just went through with those two playoff home games. The community came through in the best fashion possible.
"Talking to the group as a whole and individually (during exit meetings), the guys enjoy what we have going on here. They enjoy the dressing room. They enjoy playing for Paul (Maurice). They enjoy the fact that we have a capacity to get better. We’re not a team that is in its cycle that’s on the down. We’re a team that’s in its cycle that’s on its way up."
The Jets have nine players on their season-ending roster who could become unrestricted free agents on July 1: forwards Michael Frolik, Drew Stafford, Jiri Tlusty, Lee Stempniak, Jim Slater, Matt Halischuk, TJ Galiardi and Eric O’Dell and defenceman Adam Pardy. Four more players, Ben Chiarot, Anthony Peluso, Paul Postma and Keaton Ellerby, are also scheduled to become restricted free agents.
It’s guaranteed that not all nine of the UFAs will be back, ditto for the RFAs, especially with the prospects in the system maturing.
"Obviously, there’s going to be some change," said Cheveldayoff. " That’s inevitable, just given the amount of players and transitions that we made. Plus, we have some guys in the organization that could be knocking on the door. But, I like the group and if we can keep a good portion of it together, that’s important."
Frolik signed a one-year deal as a restricted free agent last summer and the veteran Czech finished the season on the Jets top line while also flashing some versatility by being able to play both wings and reinvigorate others throughout the lineup.
He deferred all the contract-talk questions to his agent again on Friday, but did speak glowingly of his role in the organization and playing for Maurice while indicating the prospect of testing the open market for the first time is tempting.
"The organization was great for me and I love it here," said Frolik. " We’ve got a great thing going and I would like to be back, for sure.
"The main thing is to be happy hockey-wise. Sometimes it’s a little bit cold but I don’t mind it. It’s still good."
Two other prospective UFAs who spoke on Friday both came prior to the trade deadline and both made contributions in the push to the playoffs — Stafford, who found a home in the Jets Top 6 and scored nine goals and 19 points in 26 games; and Stempniak, another vet who chipped in with six goals and 10 points in 18 games.
"I’ve never gone through this before. It’s a family decision," said Stafford. "I have a wife, I have a newborn son. There’s not one thing you rely on. You have to weigh all factors. Here, you have to look at the chemistry I’ve had with some players and the way the fans are. There’s just a lot of positives here.
"I’m a midwest, small-town kind of guy. I’m not a big-city guy to begin with. I went to college down the road here in Grand Forks, so I’m used to this area. Being in Buffalo as long as I was, that’s a blue-collar city as well that’s a very passionate fan base. I’m pretty simple when it comes to that stuff."
The Jets were Stempniak’s seventh NHL team. And he spoke again Friday of how quickly he felt welcomed when landing in Winnipeg in early March.
"It was a lot of fun. That was the most fun I’ve had playing hockey in a few years now," said Stempniak. "Every game was pressure-packed and meant so much as it went on. And just to see the way the city got behind us was awesome."
"Games 3 and 4 here with the fans are ones I won’t forget for a long time.
"Right from the coaches, the organization, through the room, a great group of guys and there’s a lot of strong leadership there. A lot of cohesiveness, where everyone get’s along, no matter if it’s me being here two months to guys who have been here since the move. The room got along really well and it was a team in the truest sense of the word from what I gather and I think that allowed us to overcome a lot of the injuries, the deficits when it looked like the odds were against us down the stretch.
"I probably fit in on the team maybe even better than I anticipated. I would like to be back. I liked playing here. There’s a lot of guys about passionate about winning and that goes a long way. In terms of being back, I’d like to but I know there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of guys who are up. I think the one thing is that I’ll take things in stride and see how it goes along."
THE NERVOUS NINE
A look at the nine Jets players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents July 1:
RW Michael Frolik
Numbers: GP: 82; G: 19 A: 23
‘14-15 salary: $3.3 million
LW/RW Drew Stafford
Numbers: GP: 76; G: 18; A: 25
‘14-15 salary: $4 million
RW Lee Stempniak
Numbers: GP: 71; G: 15; A: 13
‘14-15 salary: $900,000
C Jim Slater
Numbers: GP: 82; G: 5; A: 8
‘14-15 salary: $1.6 million
LW Jiri Tlusty
Numbers: GP: 72; G: 14 A: 17
‘14-15 salary: $2.95 million
D Adam Pardy
Numbers: 55 GP; 0 G: 9 A.
‘14-15 salary: $700,000
LW/RW Matt Halischuk
Numbers: GP 47; G: 3; A: 5
‘14-15 salary: $725,000
LW TJ Galiardi
Numbers: GP: 38 ;G: 1; A: 0
‘14-15 salary: $750,000
C Eric O’Dell
Numbers: GP: 11; G: 0; A: 1
‘14-15 salary: $650,000