November 22, 2017

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Jets extend Little's contract

The Winnipeg Jets made a large investment in their future Thursday, signing veteran centre Bryan Little to a six-year, US$31.746-million contract extension.

The 29-year-old centre has played his entire career with the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise. In mid-February, he expressed a desire to sign an extension before his current five-year, US$23.5-million deal expired following the 2017-18 season. The extension was finalized this week before the Jets reported for Thursday's medicals.

The club opens training camp Friday at 10 a.m.

“I didn’t want to leave as soon as things were starting to get good,” explained a smiling Little during a Thursday morning news conference at the Iceplex. “I’ve been with this franchise a long time — a lot of ups and a lot of downs. I feel like the team is taking a turn. It’s definitely the most talented group I’ve ever played with, so I think the future of this team is really bright and in the next few years, it’s going to be fun to play on this team. That was another thing that was in the back of my mind that made me want to stay longer here.”

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The Winnipeg Jets made a large investment in their future Thursday, signing veteran centre Bryan Little to a six-year, US$31.746-million contract extension.

The 29-year-old centre has played his entire career with the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise. In mid-February, he expressed a desire to sign an extension before his current five-year, US$23.5-million deal expired following the 2017-18 season. The extension was finalized this week before the Jets reported for Thursday's medicals.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Bryan Little</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Bryan Little

The club opens training camp Friday at 10 a.m.

"I didn’t want to leave as soon as things were starting to get good," explained a smiling Little during a Thursday morning news conference at the Iceplex. "I’ve been with this franchise a long time — a lot of ups and a lot of downs. I feel like the team is taking a turn. It’s definitely the most talented group I’ve ever played with, so I think the future of this team is really bright and in the next few years, it’s going to be fun to play on this team. That was another thing that was in the back of my mind that made me want to stay longer here."

The deal, which carries an average annual value of US$5.291 million, also includes a three-year no-movement clause (covering the final season of his current contract) and four years of a modified no-trade clause after that.

"We’re excited," said Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. "Again, any time a player forgos free agency and the opportunity to go to the market and basically pick where they want to play. For a player like Bryan, who had 30 teams in front of him, we’re excited that he chose to stay with us."

Little and his agent Anton Thun asked for and received the security of a long-term deal.

"The one thing I said I wanted to sign a longer-term deal," said Little, who will be 36 the next time he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. "I wanted that stability. I knew I could play a lot longer and I wanted to stay in Winnipeg for a long time. The term is kind of big for me. I wanted to be here for a while and be secure. Luckily, they were offering that right away so it worked out."

The Edmonton native was drafted by the Thrashers in the first round (12th overall) in the 2006 NHL Draft and is entering his 11th season with the organization. He’s one of four players still on the active roster that moved north from Atlanta in time for the Jets' inaugural 2011-12 season, joining captain Blake Wheeler and defencemen Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom as Jets 2.0 originals.

In 2016-17, Little suffered a knee injury in the season-opener but returned to play 59 games, scoring 21 goals and providing 26 assists.

It was his fourth 40-point season for the Jets and the fifth time in his career he netted at least 20 goals.

Little has played 672 regular-season games, the third most in franchise history. He’s also second in club history for points (432) and goals (184), and fifth in assists (248). He has accumulated 237 career penalty minutes.

Cheveldayoff expressed no concern about giving six additional years to a player in the latter half of his career.

"I think the fact he's a responsible 200-foot player now, that will never change," said Cheveldayoff. "That’s something that’s always going to be a hallmark for him. The areas of the game he excels at, you know, he can control the play but doesn’t have to be the guy that sets the high tempo. He can play at different tempos."

It was the price of doing business, Cheveldayoff asserted. Finding players of Little's calibre can be a very expensive proposition during the frenzied summer signing period.

"If you want to keep veteran players and you want to surround young players with quality people, the term is the trade off," he said. "Whether it’s now or it’s July 1 (the first day for free agency signings). On July 1, sometimes when you get into those situations where you don’t have a player or a player leaves and you need to replace (him), you might be over-terming it and overpaying even to a greater extent.

"This term works for both sides. This AAV (average annual value) works for both sides in the short and long term. Did Bryan leave some money on the table? You know what, you’d have to go to July 1 (next year) to figure that out. He was willing to willing to make it happen now."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Read more by Mike Sawatzky.

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Updated on Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 12:12 PM CDT: Updates

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