The Winnipeg Jets simply couldn’t make the dollars make sense.
That’s what it came down to in the Jets’ unsuccessful attempt to convince Paul Stastny to stick around for a few more Stanley Cup runs in the Manitoba capital.
Instead, the 32-year-old centre signed a three-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights, with an average annual value (AAV) of $6.5 million. That’s just slightly less than the veteran forward made on his last contract — $7 million a year since 2014 with the St. Louis Blues.
That was the biggest news surrounding NHL free agency day for the Jets, who couldn’t land a guy that fit in nicely between young slick forwards Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers for a couple of months following his acquisition at the trade line in February.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said despite mutual interest from both parties, the numbers just didn’t add up for an organization facing a salary cap crunch.
“While we offered the same term, obviously it wasn’t the same money,” said Cheveldayoff.
“With what transpired over here in the last couple days, we put our best foot forward — and maybe even six inches beyond even our best foot — to make sure that we would have no regrets if it wasn’t good enough. Because at the end of the day, it was just a reality of what we could or couldn’t do given the good problems that we have in front of us in keeping this solid team together.”
Cheveldayoff made a trade Saturday to clear some salary cap space. Goalie Steve Mason and forward Joel Armia were dealt to the Montreal Canadiens, along with a 7th round pick in the 2019 draft and a 4th round pick in the 2020 draft. In exchange, the Jets picked up defenceman Simon Bourque while clearing more than $5 million off their books.
It was believed the extra cap room would be used to help retain Stastny, however, the price tag was simply too high for the Central Division club.
Cheveldayoff said shipping out additional salaries might have been required.
“When I talked to you guys last week, I said that’s something we would potentially hope would come together but we knew it would come with some challenges,” said Cheveldayoff. “We were able to cross the first hurdle and try and create the ability to just speak with him when we made the move to clear some cap space. If we were fortunate enough to have gotten him, there would have been a lot more surgery that would have been needed on the roster as well.”
Winnipeg acquired Stastny at the trade deadline Feb. 26 for a first-round pick in last month’s NHL Draft, along with prospect Erik Foley.
Stastny had four goals and nine assists in 19 regular-season games and was a major contributor in the Jets’ run to the Western Conference final, firing six goals and adding nine assists in 19 post-season games.
Veteran centre Bryan Little, who begins a new six-year, $31.75 million contract (a $5.3 million AAV) this season, has been a top centre within the organization his entire career but hasn’t clicked with Laine in their time together. Jack Roslovic, meanwhile, is coming off a rookie season in which he skated on the wing.
Still, Cheveldayoff believes the spot of second-line centre can be filled internally.
“Oh yeah. Again, I don’t know if there were a lot of people, quite honestly, thought there was even a chance that we were going to be able to bring back Paul,” he said. “When the season ended, we had a great conversation. He expressed his willingness and desire to, if we could make it work, come back. When it’s all said and done, you guys are going to look at the salary cap and roster and say, ‘OK, how were they going to do this anyway?’
“Again, we’ve got a good group of guys here and we’ve got lots of work ahead of us on our RFAs. That’s where things pick up on July 2.”
Indeed, Winnipeg still has its own pricey restricted free agents to lock down, including defencemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, centre Adam Lowry and goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
They are also now eligible to extend Laine and offer captain Blake Wheeler a new deal. He is set to become a UFA following the ’18-19 campaign.
Cheveldayoff said the work continues on getting those deals done but wouldn’t delve into any specifics.
“So again, some guys are arbitration eligible and we’ll find out in (a few) days that if they file or not but there are different conversations that you have in passing with agents and the draft, and say, ‘OK, we’ll pick up on July 2 or after the week goes by,’ because this week is more about what’s free and available and lots of focus is put on that,” he said. “You’re always kind of chipping away at various different levels of your RFA type situations.”
He said it was difficult to lose Mason and Armia in the trade with the Habs.
“Very professional guys. Hockey is a great game but can be an awful business sometimes. That’s a saying that’s out there and maybe a little more explicit when it’s behind closed doors about what the business can be like. That’s the tough realities,” Cheveldayoff said. “We created some opportunities for us to be able to have some flexibility moving forward in getting our deals signed which, again, when you’re sitting here today, you’re putting those numbers in pencil until you go through whatever kind of process of negotiation or arbitration or whatever it is and then they get put into pen.
“So, again, there’s lots of prognostication on how those contracts do come in. There’s term and money and all the things that come into play. You have to make some tough decisions.”
With Mason out, the Jets added a new back-up goalie to the mix, signing Laurent Brossoit, 25. The former Edmonton Oiler was inked to a one-year, one-way deal worth $650,000.
The Jets also signed three other depth skaters, forwards Dennis Everberg and Seth Griffith, along with a familiar face in defenceman Cam Schilling, to one-year, two-way contracts, each worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
Schilling, 29, played in 71 games for the Manitoba Moose last season, posting 32 points (6G, 26A). Everberg, 26, played in 50 games for Omsk and Nizhnekamsk of the KHL in 2017-18 where he scored 16 points. He played 70 career NHL games for the Colorado Avalanche, scoring three goals and adding nine assists for 12 points. Griffith, 25, played in 21 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season where he had three points. He also played in 46 games for the AHL’s Rochester Americans, posting 41 points.
In other Jets-related news today, unrestricted free agent forward Matt Hendricks inked a one-year deal ($700,000 AAV) with the Minnesota Wild, while goalie Michael Hutchinson signed a one-year, $1.3-million deal with the Florida Panthers.
Hendricks, who spent one year with Winnipeg after agreeing to a free-agent deal late last summer, hails from Blaine, Minn., about 30 kilometres north of St. Paul, the home of the Wild.
“I have a smile ear to ear,” the 10-year veteran told Michael Russo of The Athletic.
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Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).