THERE is still some fine-tuning to do and touch-ups may yet be necessary. But the finished product that will be the Winnipeg Jets is very close to being wheeled out of the hangar for the 2011-12 regular-season.
The Jets announced more roster moves on Sunday, releasing winger Janne Pesonen while assigning defenceman Paul Postma and left-winger Jason Gregoire to the St. John's IceCaps of the AHL. Meanwhile, contract talks with first-round draft pick Mark Scheifele, who has been sensational in training camp, are moving along quickly enough that an announcement on a deal for the 18-year-old could come as soon as today.
Players with junior eligibility remaining that were drafted in the first, second or third round must be signed by 4 p.m. on Tuesday or automatically return to their junior clubs.
"We've had great discussions with his agent and those discussions are ongoing," said Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. "It's all part of the process. We've had good conversations."
The Jets will have to declare a roster of 23 by Wednesday, not including injured players Eric Fehr, Aaron Gagnon and Kenndal McArdle, while goaltender David Aebischer and forward Troy Bodie have not yet signed contracts. As well, the Jets will find out if centre Tim Stapleton cleared waivers this morning and Cheveldayoff said even if he does, it's not a given he'll be sent to St. John's.
"When you get down to smaller numbers the decisions are (made) with more and more scrutiny," said Cheveldayoff. "We're looking at where players fit and how they fit and in some cases on tryout guys, if they fit.
"It's been a great evaluation process for the two kids we're sending to St. John's (Postma and Gregoire) and I told them both this morning when I spoke to them, this is really the start, not the ending. This shouldn't be looked at negatively, it should be looked at positively as the start of them on their way to coming back here."
"They both made great impressions and are going to be a big part of the Winnipeg Jets' future."
The demotion of Postma may be seen by some as a bit of a surprise given he finished second in scoring for the Jets during the preseason to Scheifele with two goals and three assists in four games. But with the Jets deep in the defence corps and Postma on a two-way contract, it made the decision to send him to St. John's easier. Listed ahead of him on Winnipeg's defensive depth chart are Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart, Johnny Oduya, Ron Hainsey, Randy Jones and Derek Meech, who can also play on the wing.
All but Meech are on one-way contracts, meaning their NHL salaries are guaranteed even if they are playing for the IceCaps.
"He's certainly knocking at the door," Cheveldayoff said of Postma. "But lots of people knock at the door, you've got to push it down. In our situation here we've got seven (defencemen) on one-way contracts and that comes into play a little bit.
"He's in the third year of his development and he's progressed nicely. It's a process and this is the next step in the process for him."
Gregoire, the Winnipeg product, joined the Jets this summer after originally being drafted by the New York Islanders in 2007 and spending three years at the University of North Dakota. He appeared in three preseason games with the Jets, picking up one assist.
"Coming out college you don't get the chance to go to an NHL training camp and experience what it's all about," Cheveldayoff said. "He'll be a much better player for the experience being here and gauging himself against the speed and the strength of NHL players. And getting acclimated to the pro game at the American Hockey League level is a good thing. He'll be challenged each and every night to be one of the go-to guys there and get the ice time and experience he needs."
Jets head coach Claude Noel had praised Pesonen's overall game as recently as Saturday, but the Finnish product — who played seven games with the Pittsburgh Penguins three years ago and spent the last two seasons in the KHL — is 29 and was essentially pushed out of work by younger wingers in the organization.
"It's a tough one there," Cheveldayoff said. "He's a good player, a great person and I had a wonderful conversation with him. We talked about the camp and everything, but these are the decisions you have to make when you have to get to a roster of 23 active players. Lots of elements come into play from lots of different angles."