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|Jets avoid splash, quietly get better|
|Written by Erika Schnure|
|Thursday, 05 July 2012 10:50|
Unlike their Southeastern counterpart Carolina Hurricanes, the Winnipeg Jets opted not to go for a big splash and, instead made smaller moves that have improved their team heading into next season.As free agent frenzy kicked off Sunday, most of the teams in the Southeast Division stayed fairly quiet. Aside from the blockbuster draft day trade that sent Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes, only a few minor deals were done in four of the five Southeast teams.
The one exception was the Winnipeg Jets, who signed center Olli Jokinen to a two-year, $9 million contract on July 2. They had added some further depth the day before, signing winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to a one-year, $1.8 million deal.
"He has the size, he's got a tremendous amount of experience, he's had great consistency over the years," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said during a conference call after Jokinen's signing. "We believe that with adding the size of (Ponikarovsky) and now Jokinen, we're a much bigger and harder team to play against."
Jokinen raised his game last year as a member of the Calgary Flames. Former Calgary coach Brent Sutter had a talk with Jokinen shortly after he assumed the bench in 2009 about changing his style, committing to a more defensive game, and improving his play away from the puck.
Jokinen did – and has continued to put up good numbers while using his big body to defend. Last year, he scored 61 points with the Flames.
"Olli has become a complete player that every team needs on their hockey team to have success. Teams that have big center-icemen always seem to find a way to win," Sutter told the Toronto Sun Wednesday. "He's a big body that can skate and he's learned how to play the game the right way. He just needs to stay with it."
Cheveldayoff also hopes to have the 33-year-old Jokinen mentor his young players like 20-year-olds Evander Kane and Alexander Burmistrov.
"Any time you can add a player of this stature, a player that has abilities to make plays and to score, it creates other opportunities for players like Evander," Cheveldayoff told reporters on the conference call. "You have to respect players like Olli when they're on the ice all the time, and I think that attention helps other players to play their game as well. He's very excited about being at the forefront of the group that has young players that have a chance to continue to grow and get better, and he's really looking forward to the opportunity to contribute in that regard."
While the roster up front seems to be shaping up well, the Jets looked to be in some trouble when it came to the net – until this week. The team lost Chris Mason to Nashville, and days before Ondrej Pavelec was signed to his new five-year deal on June 25, rumors swirled that the Jets could have let him walk – to the KHL or another team extending an offer sheet – instead of coughing up the $4 million per year he wanted.
The Jets gave Pavelec an initial qualifying offer that was equal to his $1.3 million salary last season, before finally raising the stakes and giving him the kind of contract he wanted. But before that happened, Pavelec was fielding high offers from the KHL, and his agent wasn't afraid to flaunt that information and threatened to walk away from Winnipeg.
But, amid the rumors of tension, the Jets came up with a revised deal for Pavelec, and he now has a new five-year, $20 million contract. And as of July 4, Pavelec also has a new backup.
The Jets added a little insurance Wednesday, signing Al Montoya to a modest one-year, $601,000 deal. Montoya, who has struggled to climb up the goaltending ranks with the New York Islanders, is currently slated to be Pavelec's backup next season.
"We made the choice to go in the direction with Al because we felt that as a 27-year old goaltender there is a good opportunity to work with (Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty) and continue to grow his game and become a good asset for us moving forward," Cheveldayoff said in a team statement.
The Jets have a few steps left to make before the season begins – for starters, they still have to sign Evander Kane to a new contract. Cheveldayoff says that the Jets are working on it. "Every negotiation takes its own course," Cheveldayoff told the Winnipeg Free Press. "We're hopeful we'll come to an agreement with Evander in relatively short order."
NOTESThe Tampa Bay Lightning made their significant free-agent signing Wednesday, reaching an agreement with now-former Philadelphia Flyer Matt Carle. Carle received a six-year, $33 million contract with the Lightning, joining recent addition Sami Salo on Tampa's blue line. ... The Washington Capitals have made a few small deals, signing Joey Crabb and Jack Hillen to contracts this week. The Florida Panthers signed George Parros and Filip Kuba to new deals. ... The Carolina Hurricanes, after their big Jordan Staal deal, have also been fairly subdued. However, they did bring Joe Corvo back home to Carolina once again. Carolina traded Corvo to Boston last summer for a fourth-round draft pick. The Hurricanes also announced that Jordan Staal, recently signed to a 10-year deal, will wear an "A" in Carolina under his brother, captain Eric Staal.
Photos by Getty Images
|Last Updated on Friday, 06 July 2012 04:02|