MONTREAL — From where we sit, bringing back Jim Slater was a no-brainer for the Winnipeg Jets.
Not only was Slater coming off his most productive season as a NHLer, he frequently showcased the intangibles required to help the Jets in their process of trying to cultivate a culture of winning — and say so long to the culture of losing that manifested itself into the Atlanta Thrashers.
On the flip side, Slater was clear from the beginning, even dating back to the days leading up to the NHL trade deadline, that he wanted to remain with the Jets and that he saw a future with them.
There’s always the thought that Slater could have left a little money on the table by waiting to see what unrestricted free agency might bring, but that doesn’t always work out for players. Occasionally, they get a raise but the fit simply isn’t there. Slater also got very involved in the community and likes the city, so that’s a bonus for him as well.
Staying here makes sense for Slater since he knows exactly what his role is and already has the trust and respect of his head coach Claude Noel, who isn’t afraid to lean on him in important situations.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff admitted during a conference call on Wednesday that he had an opportunity to move Slater (likely for draft picks or prospects) at the deadline, just like he had with pending UFA Johnny Oduya, but Slater was deemed too valuable and kept in the mix, with the hope that a deal could be struck. Mission accomplished on that front.
Cheveldayoff and company have talked openly about the vision of moving forward with players of strong character and Slater certainly fits that mould.
Giving him a three-year deal makes sense for both sides, as Slater gets the security he covets and he gets a deserved raise but at a reasonable cap hit of $1.6 million per season.
Slater’s linemate Tanner Glass told colleague Paul Friesen he’s closing in on a deal as well and we’d expect it to be a multiyear (two or three) pact for between $900,000 and $1.2 million per season.
Slater also might be simply finding his stride.
Thanks to his strong skating ability, he’s able to create plenty of chances and might one day surpass the 13 goals he scored this season.
You could also make the argument that Slater’s leadership is as important as what he contributes on the ice. He’s a quiet leader with an excellent work ethic that should come in with even more confidence after suiting up for Team USA at the recent World Hockey Championship.
“Anytime you get to one, represent your country and two, get to play on a big stage where there are big stakes involved, it’s a good thing and a good thing for those players — certainly a feather in their cap to be asked to be a part of that group,” said Cheveldayoff. “I believe he played a leadership part with that group. We’re happy he wanted to stay with us and that we were able to get this deal done.”
Slater made it clear that he has high hopes for the Jets next season.
“Obviously, expectations are to come into camp with this team and prepare for a long season and a long season definitely is making the playoffs and going far,” he said. “Watching the playoffs this year, you know that if you can get into the playoffs, anybody has a chance to win. Our No. 1 goal is to have a consistent season all the way through and just be there in the end when the playoffs get started.”
Watching teams like the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils and eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings make the final gives teams like the Jets hope.
“You look at the whole season and races were tight throughout both conferences,” said Slater. “There’s so much parity throughout the league and anybody can win. This just solidifies it with LA winning after squeaking into the playoffs.
“That’s what makes the league so fun and the game so fun to watch, nobody is going to have any cakewalks through the season or the playoffs.”
We’d expect negotiations to continue to heat up on several fronts leading into July 1, but much of the work over the next week for the Jets revolves around the NHL Entry Draft.
Not sure if I see a true blockbuster in their future, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the Jets make a move of consequence.