NHL free agency about to open

- July 1st, 2012

Happy Canada Day, where we celebrate our nation’s birth and a host of NHL teams get out the cheque book and occasionally swing for the fences.

This is the second edition for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets since the franchise returned to The Great White North.

Cheveldayoff took a conservative approach last year, as he needed some time to assess what he had within the organization.

Even with another year under his belt, we don’t expect to see Cheveldayoff and the Jets pursue a lot of big-ticket items but don’t rule them out of the entire sweepstakes. The Jets will build mostly through the draft but have some money to spend with the salary cap on the rise again.

Cheveldayoff knows the roster needs some tweaks (bigger, strong, faster comes to mind) and would love to land a Top-6 forward that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (historically tough to find in unrestricted free agency).

P-A Parenteau of the New York Islanders makes sense on a lot of levels, but he’ll have no shortage of suitors and figures to cash in, much like Ville Leino did last summer.

The Jets also have several of their own free agents they’d like to sign if the price is right, guys like Chris Mason, Tanner Glass and likely a few others like Evander Kane (who is likely to sign but could use additional time to get the framework taken care of so both sides are happy).

Kyle Wellwood is an interesting study. He was a great pick-up last season and was very productive. However, he deserves a raise and doesn’t fit the bigger, stronger or faster criteria. Wellwood is very clever and shouldn’t have to wait until September to land an NHL job this year.

With Ondrej Pavelec signed for five seasons, the Jets need to lock up their backup goalie as well.

It looks like Jonas Gustavsson is going to free agency and likely to land in a spot he thinks he might go somewhere with a better chance to earn more playing time.

Mason is a good fit, given his relationship with Pavelec and value as a leader and capable guy who should be able to give you 15 to 20 starts.

Scott Clemmensen is off the market, but former Manitoba Moose netminder Johan Hedberg might be a guy who gets a look by the Jets as well if he doesn’t return to the New Jersey Devils.

Aside from trying to add some offence, the Jets might look at adding blue-line depth (though that’s an area of strength for them). If they do consider moving Toby Enstrom (a UFA at the end of next season) at some point to try and add scoring, Bryce Salvador could be an option and it has nothing to do with the fact he’s from Brandon.

As a guy who plays with an offensive D-man like Marek Zidlicky, he could be a strong safety valve for Dustin Byfuglien and showed during the playoffs he can chip in offensively. Salvador is mobile but also 36 and just a year removed from a serious concussion. He’s also a hard-working, quiet leader that has been to the Stanley Cup final and would be a strong fit in the dressing room.

Up front, the Jets are probably going to add a couple bodies.

Gritty forwards like Brandon Prust and Adam Burish are the type of players who could add some sandpaper to the bottom six.

Prust is sure to generate plenty of interest after a strong season with the New York Rangers. He’s a physical guy, not afraid to drop the gloves, a good penalty killer that can skate. Sure to have plenty of suitors as well, but if the pitch is right, you never know.

Colby Armstrong, who was bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs, would be an interesting pick-up as well. He’s endured some injury woes the past two seasons, but had 22 and 15-goal seasons as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers. Perhaps he wants to return to the organization he had success? Personally, I think he’s going back to the Pittsburgh Penguins to play with close friend Sidney Crosby on a team that could use his grit. However, I’ll be surprised if the Jets don’t at least investigate the possibility of a short-term deal with Armstrong.

Jordin Tootoo is also the kind of guy who could bring energy to the Jets. He’s got plenty of local ties from his time with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

After spending his career with the Nashville Predators and getting his life back on track, a homecoming might make sense for both sides.

It should be an interesting day. Kirk Penton and I will keep you posted throughout the day here and at www.winnipegsun.com.

Categories: Hockey

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