Day 1 of free agency 2014: a look at what the Jets did

- July 1st, 2014

So it was a busier day than the trade deadline for the Winnipeg Jets, but not nearly as busy as many teams in the Western Conference — and specifically inside the ultra-competitive Central Division.

As more than $500 million was handed out around the league before dinner-time, the Jets identified a third-line centre and locked up Mathieu Perreault for three years and $9 million.

I didn’t have Perreault on my watch list, partly because he didn’t become available until Monday at 4 p.m. CT, when the Anaheim Ducks failed to give him a qualifying offer — allowing the RFA to become a UFA.

The Ducks did make Perreault an offer, but both sides decided to move on, allowing the Jets to swoop in and find their replacement for Olli Jokinen.

It’s too early to tell if Perreault is an upgrade, but what we know is that he’s younger (26 compared to 35) and cheaper (than the $4.5 million Jokinen made last year) and he’s better in the faceoff circle (Perreault was the Ducks’ top draw man at 52.7% last season).

“I had a couple offers but the one from Winnipeg was a better one for me. It’s a great fit,” Perreault said on a conference call. “I spoke with (Jets head coach) Paul Maurice earlier today and they want to have three lines that can score every night. I can bring a lot of speed. Winnipeg has always been a team all about speed. It’s a part of my game I like to use, I’m a smart player, I can produce. I can play a little bit of power play. I’m going to bring speed, energy and skill as well.”

Perreault unveiled an interesting nugget during the call, mentioning that Maurice told him Evander Kane was a candidate to play on his line this season.

Guess that makes some sense, considering Kane hasn’t had a regular centre for the past five seasons.

Personally, I still think Maurice gives the trio of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Kane spend time together but that line did get some time together and the Jets’ head coach said that sometimes you can have too much speed on one line.

Time will tell what happens with the line combos.

But I digress.

Perreault doesn’t give the Jets a bigger body in the middle and while Jokinen didn’t play a real physical game, his size allowed him to match up against many of the bigger centre’s in the West.

However, having watched Perreault dating back to his time with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (winning a pair of Calder Cup titles, one of which came against the Manitoba Moose in 2009), he is a skilled playmaker and has a nose for the net (his 18 goals, 43 points were both career highs and were the same totals Jokinen posted).

The Jets made plenty of inquiries during the five-day courting period before free agency officially opened and were said to be in on several other players on Tuesday, though it’s tough to see how far down the road those discussions got.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff spoke for about 18 minutes on Tuesday after the signing and addressed a variety of subjects, including the UFAs who were with the team last year.

“Montoya is the only one that’s signed. The other players, again, through different reasons, being it contractual, CBA, again, the way things go, you maybe look to try and change things up a little bit. They are all out there in those regards, that’s not to say that all of them, some of them or none of them will back with us in the organization. None of them were as a situation where we are turning our back, but again it’s got to be the right fit for both sides,” he said.

Cheveldayoff provided an update on the recovery of Grant Clitsome, who had season-ending back surgery after being limited to 32 games (two goals, 12 points).

“Grant’s recovery, from all indications, is coming along well. He’ll have some further checkups here at development camp, I believe, when we come in here next week,” said Cheveldayoff.

The Jets also signed D-man Adam Pardy on Monday before he hit free agency. I spoke with him Monday for my story, but here’s what Cheveldayoff had to say about keeping him in the fold.

“Pardy signed blindly with us last year, with respect to never being part of the organization and was a very useful part for us when we ran into injuries and such and ended up playing essentially the whole season for us. I’m sure that  if he had gone to the market, he could have had different options available to him. It was only a couple years ago, he was making $2 million as a player. We feel very fortunate he committed to us when he did at the number he did,” said Cheveldayoff

With Pardy sticking around, the Jets were unable to come to terms with Zach Redmond, who had an excellent playoff with the St. John’s IceCaps after enduring several injuries this season and being limited to just 10 games with the Jets.

Redmond signed a one-way, two-year deal worth $1.5 million with the Colorado Avalanche, who were the top team in the Western Conference during the regular season but have been looking for help on D. Colorado also got Brad Stuart in a trade on Tuesday, but Redmond should have a chance to play on the third pair for the Avs next season.

I had a good chat with Redmond on Tuesday afternoon but I’m not sure how much made the paper, so I’ll include the full piece near the bottom of this post.

The other UFA the Jets lost on Tuesday was goalie Al Montoya, who signed a two-year deal worth $2.1 to be Roberto Luongo’s backup. When it was looking more and more like Montoya was going to move on, I identified the Panthers and Washington Capitals as two prime landing spots for the man who was 13-8-3 last season with a 2.30 GAA and .920 save %.

So Michael Hutchinson is another step closer to becoming the Jets’ backup goalie. I expect him to have some competition, it will be interesting to see how much NHL experience that individual has or if someone like James Reimer or Peter Budaj is pursued via trade or they find an unrestricted free agent to come on board.

It was a big day in the Central Division as five clubs were active (the Predators weren’t but they added 40-goal scorer James Neal at the draft).

Cheveldayoff was asked if he was worried about the Jets keeping up with the competition.

“All you can control is what you can control. You go out into the marketplace and there’s obviously some very big names that (signed) on this day. Players signed for different reasons in different places. Opportunities exist everywhere and when players get to free agency they get to chose and go where they go,” said Cheveldayoff. “It’s always a tough day because everybody wants to look across the street and see what the other guy has done. Everyone seems to perceive you always want to do more but the reality is there is different parameters and there’s different
situations for every team.”

I asked if Cheveldayoff thought there could be some “value” players as free agency moves to Day 2 and beyond.

“I don’t know that you hear too many times ‘value’ on Day 1 of free agency. I think it’s a time where if you feel there’s a right fit, wherever that fit may be, you try to strike. If you’re fortunate enough to be in that conversation, you hope that it gets done.

“There’s always a little bit of, not letdown, but re-assessment of where things are at after Day 1. I don’t think things happened maybe even a little faster than normal, given the fact that a lot of the parameters might have been discussed prior to the actual opening of free agency.”

What else might the Jets’ do to bolster the roster? Cheveldayoff said there were still a few irons in the fire, including the pursuit of another Top-6 forward.

It will be interesting to see what else transpires here during the coming days.

On Tuesday morning, I spoke with forward Chris Thorburn, who re-upped with the Jets for three years and $3.6 million and as expected, he was thrilled about the chance to stick around.

One of the biggest things Thorburn is excited about is the possibility of being able to spend a decade with the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers’ organization.

“It’s funny you say that, I was talking to my wife last night and I was doing the math. At the end of this contract to have 10 years with one organization, not a lot of players experience that and that is something I’m proud of and take pride in,” said Thorburn.

Although there was some other interest during the wooing period, Thorburn said he believes in the direction of the Jets.

“From an organizational standpoint, they’re doing everything they can to develop a winner in Winnipeg  and I just want to be part of that,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time until we’re successful and I want to make sure that I’m a part of that.”

After watching his season be cut short by a foot injury (broken talus), Thorburn says he’s back to full health.

“I’m ready to go, everything healed up nice and there’s no discomfort at all,” said Thorburn, who has 36 goals, 97 points and 656 penalty minutes in 523 NHL games. “It’s not like I’m wondering if it’s going to feel good in my skate I’ve already skated a few times. It seems like it will be fresh for training camp.”

At the end of the day, Thorburn’s value will always stretch beyond the stats, as he’s considered a glue guy and a team player.

Finding a way to help the Jets break the cycle of losing is something he’s focused on.

“That’s my goal and it’s probably one of my most disappointing stats. I don’t even have a playoff game to show for and that’s something that I’m starving for” said Thorburn. “Obviously people in Winnipeg want the playoffs. As a player, at the end of your career, it’s all about about what kind of success you have in the playoffs and that’s something I can’t report right now.

“But during the course of these three years, I’m excited to build up that resume.”

There was a lot of backlash on Twitter about the Jets bringing back Thorburn. I’ll confess that I was surprised by the term of the deal and thought he might get squeezed out with Anthony Peluso perhaps taking on a bigger role but I’m not shocked that Thorburn is sticking around.

Below is the full story from my discussion with Redmond that may not have made the paper in its entirety.

MOVING ON
Defenceman Zach Redmond was interested in returning to the Jets but ultimately signed a one-way, two-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche worth $1.5 million.

“My main thing was that I wanted to get the best opportunity I could to play in the NHL and Colorado was high on me,” Redmond said from Michigan. “Basically the bottom line is there’s no room on the right side on defence. That’s all it came down to. It’s nothing personal. I have nothing but great things to say about Winnipeg and St. John’s.”

Redmond was asked if he ever wondered how things may have turned out were it not for the life-threatening skate-cut injury he suffered in February of 2013?

“I don’t know. I could think about all day,” said Redmond. “You could go through what may or may not have happened but it worked out this way for a reason and we’ll see how it goes.”

Redmond said it was “pretty cool” to get recruiting calls from Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy and president Joe Sakic during the courting process, noting those were guys he “grew up idolizing” when he was growing up.

“I’m a fan of how they play, they play fast and they’ve got a young team. It’s heading in the right direction,” said Redmond. “This is my first time on a new team. New challenges are always good.”

- 30 -

That’s going to do it for today.

It’s been an interesting few days here, going back to the NHL Draft in Philadelphia.

I will provide any updates I can on Wednesday.

Be sure to check www.winnipegsun.com for today’s stories or pick up Wednesday’s paper for a full recap.

I’ve got a column recapping what the Jets did on Day 1, a sidebar on Chris Thorburn and a notebook that is topped by the newest Jet, Mathieu Perreault.

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