He’s become a valuable go-to guy for coach Paul Maurice — a player you can move up and down the lineup, in a number of different roles, and know you’ll likely get a quality result.
Mathieu Perreault is much the same way off the ice. The veteran Winnipeg Jets forward rarely disappoints any time he holds court with the media, typically offering up thoughtful and candid answers to whatever questions are thrown his way.
And so with training camp just around the corner, the Free Press had a lengthy one-on-one chat with Perreault Monday to get his views on a host of different topics — from lofty expectations, tuning out the Stanley Cup final, Jacob Trouba’s arbitration, Josh Morrissey’s contract situation, Paul Stastny’s departure, Blake Wheeler’s new deal, Winnipeg’s core and who he thinks can break through this year.
As always, Perreault had plenty to say.
They are a popular pick of pundits and oddsmakers heading into the new season. According to Perreault, any external pressures to succeed pale in comparison to what’s going on inside the dressing room. They don’t just want to win. They expect to.
“For us it’s the same. We came into training camp (last season) knowing we had a good team that could do something great. This year, obviously with what we’ve done last year, there’s more expectations from the media and the fans,” Perreault said Monday after an informal Jets skate at Bell MTS Iceplex.
“Nothing came easy last year, we battled hard for everything we got. We can’t think that we’re going to come in now and it’s going to be easy. It’s going to have to be like last year, a grind.”
Nearly every member of last year’s squad was on the ice Monday, save for Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien. The majority of the team has been skating in Winnipeg for the past week, and several players also spent a few weeks working out together in Toronto earlier this summer.
Wheeler and Mark Scheifele even hit the ice early Monday morning, just the two of them, then were back a couple hours later with the main group.
“I guess guys are anxious to get going. If I go back to when I first came in the league you didn’t see it to much. Nowadays guys come in early to get in shape and get ready for first day of camp. So it’s nice to see all the guys here trying to get ready, because we know it’s a big season ahead and we’re taking it very seriously,” said Perreault, 30.
Perreault — who is entering his 10th season in the NHL, and fifth in Winnipeg — also pointed to Wheeler signing a five-year contract extension last week as another important sign of the “all-in” mentality that exists.
“I believe he’s our best player, our best leader in the room. It was great to see him sign. Now we can really focus on winning, over having to sign a contact and being a free agent and what-not. Now we can all put our energy into winning a Stanley Cup, which is good for our team,” he said.
It’s noteworthy Perreault didn’t shy away from mentioning the Cup dreams on several other occasions, including when discussing Trouba. You’ll recall that Perreault raised eyebrows a couple years ago when Trouba opted to hold out of training camp as part of a contract dispute, suggesting the move could backfire and the team might get on just fine without him.
This time, Perreault weighed in on whether Trouba’s continued saga might be a distraction. Trouba, of course, was unable to reach a long-term extension this summer and opted for salary arbitration. He was awarded $5.5 million — halfway between the $7 million he requested and the $4 million the team reportedly offered — and could become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020 if he can’t get locked up before then.
“It doesn’t really matter for our team,” Perreault said of Trouba’s somewhat murky future. “He’s here this year. And he’s going to help us try to win the Stanley Cup. So that’s all that matters.”
Perreault also had no concerns about the Morrissey situation, even though the young restricted free agent defenceman is still without a contract with training camp physicals set to start Thursday.
“No, not at all. I think they’re gonna figure it out. We need him on the ice, he’s one of our best defencemen, he was great last year. He’s still a young guy, he’s going to improve so we’re really excited to have him back,” he said.
The Jets return with much the same lineup that made it to the Western Conference final, with the exception of Stastny, who opted to sign a three-year free-agent deal in Vegas, the team that ended Winnipeg’s season.
“I think Stastny’s a big loss, but we’ve got some young players that can step in and take a bigger role on the team. So we’ll see what training camp brings,” said Perreault, who specifically mentioned Jack Roslovic and Kristian Vesalainen by name.
“I think our young guys are ready. I guess we’ll see, time will tell. Jack was good last year for us when he played. He’s a great young player, lots of speed,” said Perreault. “We’ll see what Vesalainen can bring, he’s a big guy. Some good young guys coming in, and the core group is mostly all here, so we’re excited.”
Perreault — under contract for three more years at $4.125 million — is part of a group that has signed long-term extensions along with the likes of Wheeler, Scheifele, Byfuglien, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers and Connor Hellebuyck.
Perreault had 17 goals last season, just one off his career-high of 18, while adding 22 assists in 70 regular-season games mostly played in the bottom six of the lineup. Injury limited him to just nine playoff games, where he added a goal.
“I mostly worked out in the gym this summer, I didn’t skate a whole lot, mostly stayed away from the ice. The last couple weeks I’ve been skating a lot more. But mostly in the gym, trying to get my strength up,” said Perreault.
Just don’t ask Perreault for a review of what he saw between Vegas and Washington in last season’s Cup final.
“I don’t even think I watched the last game. Maybe just one whole game of that series. I kinda turned it off, turned the switch off and forgot about hockey, didn’t really pay attention to it,” he said. “For me it was over. I didn’t really care who was going to win the Stanley Cup. If it’s not me, I don’t care.”
However, Perreault admits he’s spent a bit of time wondering “what if,” and hopes to be able to answer that question next spring.
“Once we beat Nashville we believed that could be the year. We had the team to do it. I believe it’s a bounce here and there in that series (with Vegas) that made the difference. It’s not that they outplayed us,” he said.
“We just gotta believe. It’s tough to win, we saw it, it’s such a fine line between winning and losing. We found out that out last year.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.