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BOTH camps have now expressed confidence a new contract for Winnipeg Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey is little more than a formality. But when will action speak louder than words?
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Tuesday he expects Morrissey, 23, at training camp next week with a deal in place.
“I would suspect so. We have had lots of conversations with his agent throughout the summer with respect to our situation and how we have to look at it,” said Cheveldayoff during a conference call. “I guess show up to camp and we’ll see how it goes.”
Two weeks ago, Winnipeg’s first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft told the Free Press all signs pointed to an agreement being reached.
“From my standpoint as a player, my agent (Edmonton-based Gerry Johannson) and from our conversations with the team, everything’s been going great. Everyone’s confident it will be handled and done, definitely in time for the season,” Morrissey said.
Yet, the Calgary product, coming off a breakout season in Winnipeg — his second full NHL campaign — remains unsigned.
Morrissey has made rapid progress since making the Winnipeg roster to start the 2016-17 season, asserting himself with intelligence and poise to become a top-pairing blue-liner with Jacob Trouba. He finished with seven goals and 19 assists in 81 games last season, while averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time a night.
Morrissey became a restricted free agent when his entry-level contract concluded July 1, but was not eligible to file for arbitration.
Sources have suggested Morrissey and his camp would prefer a short-term bridge deal, while the Jets are pushing for something with significant term, believing he’s already a solid defender with a lofty ceiling.
That will likely require the club to invest between US$5 million to US$6 million annually on the former Prince Albert Raiders star — more than the six-year, US$29.7-million contract carved out between the Calgary Flames and defenceman Noah Hanifin. It has an average annual value of US$4.95 million.
Cheveldayoff, taking questions on captain Blake Wheeler’s five-year extension, wouldn’t speak directly to the status of negotiations with Morrissey, adding no two sets of contract talks are alike.
“We’ve got some work to get done and we’ll get that done in short order,” he said. “There’s different ways you have to do your business throughout the summer, and obviously it was a busy summer from an arbitration standpoint. The busiest guy in the organization this summer was (vice-president and assistant GM) Larry Simmons, (considered the team’s number cruncher when it comes to the cap).
“It’s not something that when the season ends you have to put your feet up. This is a 12-months-a-year situation. The planning for what happened today started months and months and months ago. And vice versa, moving forward here. You must do your best in protection. And everybody’s different. Each contract, each person, each situation — there’s lots of different details that are unique to each situation.”
Cheveldayoff has already plowed through a lengthy list of summer projects, including signing No. 1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck to a six-year, US$37-million contract. He inked centre Adam Lowry to a three-year, US$8.75-million contract, while getting forwards Brandon Tanev, Nic Petan and Marko Dano and blue-liners Tucker Poolman and Joe Morrow to re-up for the 2018-19 season.
But he couldn’t come to terms with Trouba, who was awarded a one-year, US$5.5-million deal through arbitration.
Cheveldayoff was asked whether an inability to nail down a contract with the 24-year-old rear-guard from Rochester, Mich., and a requirement for another round of negotiations would be a distraction this season.
“I guess I don’t really understand the question. We went through the arbitration process and it yielded a one-year deal. We had different discussions with him throughout that course of time. He’s signed, ready and looking forward to having a great season,” he said.
It was Kevin Cheveldayoff’s first time speaking with the media since Trouba’s arbitration hearing.
Goalie Eric Comrie is the only other player under club control without a new contract. He’s coming off his entry-level deal and is likely destined to be the starter for the Manitoba Moose, Winnipeg’s American Hockey League affiliate.
Comrie faced plenty of rubber Tuesday at Bell MTS Iceplex as about 16 Jets players and prospects ran through drills and participated in a quick-paced, four-on-four scrimmage.
Assistant sports editor
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