Paul Stastny knows the grass isn't always greener on the other side. And the veteran forward says it was an easy decision to keep his feet planted in Winnipeg and come back for another season.
After twice waiving no-trade clauses in order to approve separate trades to a small NHL market plenty of players have on their "no-fly" lists — first in 2018 and again in 2020 — Stastny opted to re-sign a new one-year pact rather than test the free agent waters.
You get the sense he likes it here.
"I feel like at this time of my career, I’ve seen different places and played for different coaches, different organizations and it was the best fit for me on the ice and off the ice for my family," Stastny, 35, said Tuesday in a Zoom chat.
"We’ve always enjoyed our time there. I’ve spoken highly of Winnipeg and I would have never thought that four or five years ago… and that kind of speaks volumes for the organization and volumes from ownership to management to the coaching staff to the players that are there. There’s a belief that it’s a good team that’s got a lot of potential and that’s got almost all the pieces and we’re close there. And so I think I want to continue that and keep having fun with that."
Stastny, who is coming out of a three-year deal that paid him US$6.5 million annually, will play for US$3.75 million in the 2021-22 campaign. His returns keep a solid forward core intact for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and coach Paul Maurice, one that includes Stastny's good friend, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp.
The Jets are banking on that group, in addition to goalie Connor Hellebuyck and what they hope will be a much-improved blue-line with Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt brought in by trades, to keep the championship window open after finishing third in the all-Canadian division this past year, sweeping heavily-favoured Edmonton in the first round and then getting swept by underdog Montreal in the second round.
"There’s no perfect situation, no perfect team, and I think it just shows that’s the NHL these days. There’s probably 22 or 23 teams that think they’re going to win the Cup every year at the start of the year, maybe more, but that’s what makes it fun, that’s what makes it competitive, that’s what makes every game so impactful," said Stastny.
Stastny showed off his versatility last year, playing at times on the first, second and third lines, both at centre and the wing once Dubois was acquired in a trade. He had 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 56 regular-season games, and a goal and an assist in six playoff games.
"When you’re playing with good players, you have different line combinations, things get stagnant throughout the season so you’ve got to be ready for anything. And like I said, when you’re playing with some of those guys, you’re just enjoying it and you’re just getting better and you’re constantly learning and just evolving as a player," he said.
"When you have a coach like Paul, who understands my game and knows me and you get constant feedback, it’s good for me just to bounce ideas off him and vice versa and I feel like we both can think out there together and find what’s best for me or what’s best for our team or what’s best for different guys."
One change Stastny is looking forward to next season is a reduction, or perhaps elimination, of strict COVID protocols which made it difficult for everyone. It was especially on tough on extended families. Case in point was having to pull his young kids out of school for two weeks so they could quarantine and join him on the ice for his 1,000th game celebration in the final week of the regular-season.
"The biggest thing was just travel. Sometimes we’re out of town — especially last year, things were shut down. For example, this year I think Thanksgiving we’re out of town. We’re on the road before and after. My wife is a family person too, the way I am, so I know her and the kids almost guaranteed will be flying back home to see her parents," said Stastny.
"It’s stuff like that that makes it easier. We’ve always been like that. When we’ve had road trips, they’re doing little trips, even if it’s just going skiing somewhere in Whistler or Banff — something they wanted to do this past year, but couldn’t, because everything changed at the last minute with the quarantine. Stuff like that, that’s the part you don’t know what’s going to happen. You have a feeling if you look down the road that things will slowly get better over time. Last year was so unique and unpredictable."
Stastny is the closest thing you'll see to a modern-day player coach, the son of Hall of Famer Peter Stastny who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, especially for some of the young players in the organization. Those intangibles make him a valuable piece of what the Jets hope to ultimately accomplish.
"When I was younger, I had the likes off (Joe) Sakic and (Andrew) Brunette and (Adam) Foote and (Ian) Laperriere and (Pierre) Turgeon, a lot of different guys that I looked up to. I was always kind of a sponge, I’ve always kind of been a better listener than a talker, but when I feel like I have to say something, it’s important," said Stastny.
"You realize that your time in this league is precious; it goes by quick, so you want to enjoy it. But at the same time, you want to leave it all on the ice and never have any regrets about not training too hard or worrying about something else, as this only happens for a very short time span in our lives."
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