Mathieu Perreault couldn’t avoid the rumour mill during the off-season and was more than mildly concerned about the possible tumult created in his life if reports of a scenery change became reality.
Just weeks after the Winnipeg Jets bowed out to the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, media speculation and Twitter chatter had Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff working to trade the diminutive but gritty forward as a means of trimming salary from the books.
If those talks genuinely occurred, they yielded no transaction. And the father of three youngsters is in Winnipeg preparing for his sixth training camp in Jets colours.
This is exactly where the veteran forward prefers to be.
"Stability is something huge for someone like me. Getting traded, dealing with all that stuff, it would be hard. But I’m still with the Jets and that’s what I wanted," Perreault, 31, said after an informal skate at the Iceplex with the majority of his teammates. "For sure, I saw my name a lot. I got worried at times, wondering, ‘Am I gonna get traded or not?’ It’s my sixth year, my kids were born here, we like it here, we have a good team here. So, I was happy that they decided to keep me for another year."
Perreault’s name was linked to several clubs — including two (Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators) that would have been close to home for the product of Drummondville, Que. — but dealing him wasn’t an uncomplicated matter as he has a modified no-movement clause in his contract.
He stands to earn US$4.125 million this season and next, a hefty price tag for a player whose ice time and point production has dropped the past few seasons, although he’s among a stacked forward group with a finite amount of prime minutes.
In fact, Cheveldayoff made no salary-dump deals, preferring to stick with Perreault, centre Bryan Little and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov, while allowing four high-profile unrestricted free agents — defenceman Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot and forwards Brandon Tanev and Kevin Hayes — to sign elsewhere.
The Jets have about US$15 million in cap space and still need to lock up restricted free agent forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor with training camp set to open in mere days. If the talented duo isn’t available to start the 2019-20 NHL season, Perreault’s value is immediately bolstered and he becomes a viable option on one of Winnipeg’s top two forward units.
Last season, Perreault was injury-free for the first time in his career, scoring 15 goals and adding 16 assists in 82 games while bouncing up and down the lineup and spending time on the power play.
With or without Laine and/or Connor, Perreault believes there are expectations from the organization for him to provide more — a sentiment he shares.
"Obviously, we want to see these guys signed as soon as possible. We need them on the ice with us. Personally, I just want to come out and get ready for the season. I don’t know where I’m going to be in this lineup yet, so I just want to come in and show (head coach) Paul (Maurice) I’m ready to go and wherever he needs me I’ll be ready to be the job.
"We’ve lost (Tanev) that we really didn’t replace with signings, and I see maybe more ice time available for me. So, it’d be fun. I’d like to see where it could take me. Last year was a little bit harder because some nights I was on the fourth line playing six or seven minutes, which is never easier. But I always showed up, always kept a smile on my face.
"You lose veteran players, so you replace with some young guys and, hopefully, those guy step up and become the players people think they can be. But it’s important for me, too, to do a little bit more and help in maybe a different role and see where it takes us."
Perreault is most effective when he’s able to keep the puck in the offensive zone. When compared to other Jets forwards during the 2018-19 campaign, only centre Mark Scheifele and winger Blake Wheeler played with the puck in the offensive zone for a higher percentage of their shifts than Perreault. He accomplishes that by closing in on contested pucks quickly and tenaciously.
Puck battles can be won, lost or considered a draw if neither player comes up with the puck. Perreault’s 36.3 per cent puck-battle success rate was second only to centre Adam Lowry (39 per cent) on the Winnipeg roster.
That results in scoring chances created off broken plays because of that dogged forechecking, and only Laine, Connor and Andrew Copp had more scoring chances off the forecheck.
"I feel like I’m the same guy, still playing the same way as I always have. I try to play a smart game, never really putting myself out of position, follow the system, always try to have my guy and when I get an opportunity to score, I let my skill take over, and hopefully I can do that again," Perreault said.
"Guys like to play with me because I hunt the puck, I’m tenacious on the forecheck. The hard work that I put in, I get sticks on a lot of pucks to keep plays alive and stuff like that. I’ve heard about the strong stats and I take pride in that. It’s just the way I play."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).