The Winnipeg Jets are closing in on a deal that would see Paul Stastny brought back into the fold.
Multiple sources told the Free Press late Thursday night the veteran centre, who had a short but sweet stay in Winnipeg two seasons ago, is believed to be returning just as Friday's free agent frenzy is set to kick off.
The Vegas Golden Knights need to trim salary to get under the cap, and the Jets are desperate to find someone to play up the middle on the second line behind No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele.
In that sense, it's a potential match made in hockey heaven. An announcement was expected as early as Friday morning.
Stastny was picked up by the Jets at the trade deadline in 2018 from St. Louis, with a first round draft pick and prospect Erik Foley going the other way. He found instant chemistry with linemates Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers during the run to the postseason, which involved winning two rounds and advancing to the Western Conference Final.
Stastny became an unrestricted free agent and signed a three-year deal with Vegas, the team that eliminated the Jets, that summer.
Winnipeg would have loved to retain him, and Stastny was said to be willing, but the Jets were in salary cap jail at the time. However, their financial picture has changed significantly, with Dustin Byfuglien terminating his contract, Bryan Little suffering what may be a career-ending injury and coming off the books, and other players such as Dmitry Kulikov this year, and Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Brando Tanev last year, having their contracts expire.
Sources say the teams would also swap draft picks as part of the deal, with the Jets getting the better end of that as incentive. However, Vegas would not retain any salary. Stastny has one year left on that deal which carries a $6.5 million cap hit, but is actually owed $5.5 million in real money.
The Jets just drafted centre Cole Perfetti 10th-overall on Tuesday night and hope he could eventually assume a top centre position with the club. However, at just 18 and with some growing still to do, it would be silly to bank on that happening as early as next season, which is expected to begin around Jan. 1.
In that sense, a proven veteran like Stastny could be a valuable stop-gap. Stastny, who turns 35 in late December, may be in decline but still had 17 goals and 21 helpers in 71 games for Vegas last season. He chipped in three goals and six assists in 18 playoff games in the Edmonton bubble, with the Golden Knights losing to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final.
He should also be a motivated player next year, wanting to prove that he can still contribute and hopefully earn one more contract once his current deal expires. Not to mention this might spell an end to trade talk surrounding Laine, who will likely welcome back a centre that he enjoyed previous success with.
Laine is still under team control for at least three more years before he could reach unrestricted free agency, so there's no rush to move him.
As for Little, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said earlier this week discussions were ongoing about his future after he was struck in the head and ear last November by an errant shot.
Taking on Stastny's contract might be the writing on the wall as to how that is going to play out. The Jets would likely balk at doing so if they were expecting to have to account for Little's salary next season.
Assistant sports editor
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