Kulda adds depth to Jets blue-line

- March 18th, 2013

The Winnipeg Jets finally came to terms on a contract with restricted free agent D-man Arturs Kulda.

I use finally loosely because word broke last week that Kulda was released from his contract with Novosibirsk Siber of the Kontinental Hockey League after the season was over so he could join the Jets.

The Jets made the move official on Monday morning and Kulda is expected to address the media on Tuesday morning following the morning skate.

I would say it’s doubtful that Kulda jumps right into the lineup on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins, considering he has yet to practice with the Jets.

However, with four games this week, expect to see Kulda back in a Jets uniform before long.

Kulda, 24, had nine goals, 15 points and 55 points in 50 KHL games this season, finishing with a minus-3 plus/minus rating.

Instead of playing in the American Hockey League during the lockout after being unable to secure a one-way contract from the Jets, Kulda (who had no points in nine games with the Jets last season) decided to try another route to further his development as a player.

Interestingly enough, that road has taken him back to the NHL with the Jets for the stretch drive after signing a one-way, one-year deal worth a prorated $550,000.

Kulda will be a restricted free agent when this contract expires, which means the Jets can retain his rights through a qualifying offer (or a new deal).

Here’s what Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff told colleague Paul Friesen this afternoon when asked about Kulda progression:

“He’s had a good year from what we’ve heard. He was someone who if we’d been able to sign at the beginning of the year, he would have been in the mix with us at some point,” said Cheveldayoff. “Given the scarcity of defencemen at any time, as we have seen, it’s a great opportunity to bring him in here and see where he is. He’s a young guy we’re hopeful still has a future with us.

“But if you’re looking at making a run and hoping to make a run, you never know when you’re going to have an injury on defence. Having Arturs gives us another young player who’s been through the development cycle within the organization, (who) came up and played good games last year. Hopefully he’s able to take the next step on a regular basis. We’ve got numbers here now.”

With the addition of Kulda, the number of healthy blue-liners is eight and with Toby Enstrom (shoulder) skating and getting closer to returning (best guess is that he’ll be back between 7 and 10 days), the Jets have bolstered their depth to the back end.

Derek Meech has been playing well since his promotion from the St. John’s IceCaps and Paul Postma has been a healthy scratch for the past five games, so for the time being head coach Claude Noel has some options to consider when choosing his six D-men for each game.

Naturally, the addition of Kulda had folks on Twitter firing up the speculation machine that the move was made in order to dump pending unrestricted free agent Ron Hainsey in a trade.

Of course, Hainsey is a guy who would draw interest on the market leading up to the NHL trade deadline on Apr. 3.

However, as I’ve been saying for some time, Hainsey has value to other teams but don’t forget the value he has to the Jets.

Hainsey has been doing a good-to-great job playing on the Jets’ shutdown pairing with Zach Bogosian.

Could Hainsey be moved if the package coming back was significant?

Sure, but as long as the Jets remain in the fight for first place in the Southeast Division — they’re tied with the Carolina Hurricanes with 32 points, but the ‘Canes moved into third in East after a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Monday — and are above the playoff line (the Jets dropped to seventh on Monday, tied in points with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils. The Maple Leafs have more regulation and overtime wins, which is third tie-breaker), Cheveldayoff has to manage the urge to add future draft picks against moving a player who might be tough to replace.

With all due respect to Kulda — who is a sturdy, stay-at-home defender who plays physical — the Atlanta Thrashers seventh round pick (200th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft only has 15 NHL games on his resume, so to suggest he’s going to walk in late in the condensed season and jump onto the first D-pairing seems a bit far-fetched to me.

It’s not unreasonable to connect the dots and suggest the Jets will follow suit with what they did at the deadline last year, shipping Johnny Oduya to the Chicago Blackhawks for second and third round draft picks.

It seemed pretty apparent that Oduya wasn’t going to be offered a new deal, so Cheveldayoff was smart to move him for assets.

At this time, I’m not so sure Hainsey won’t factor into the Jets’ plans going forward.

Maybe a contract extension could be in the offing or maybe the Jets think they could sign him once free agency hits this summer.

No matter how things shake down, the microscope is sure to be on the Jets’ blue-line in the days leading up to Apr. 3.

To make room for Kulda, the Jets put goalie Al Montoya on the injured-reserve list, retroactive to Mar. 13.

Montoya hasn’t had a setback with his lower-body injury and can be activated on Wednesday and I expect him to start one of the back-to-back games against the Washington Capitals this week.

The Bruins are sure to be hungry after dropping a 2-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.

Boston recalled centre Ryan Spooner on an emergency basis in a move that is likely related to the leg injury suffered by David Krejci, who took a shot in the knee for D-man Johnny Boychuk.

The Jets took Monday off to re-energize and I’ll provide the game-day tee-up Tuesday morning.

Be sure to catch my story on Alex Burmistrov and Friesen’s column on the trade deadline at www.winnipegsun.com and in Tuesday’s Winnipeg Sun.

Categories: Hockey

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