Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler decided to avoid free agency next summer by signing a shiny new five-year contract extension worth an average of $8.25 million per season that will kick in starting next year.
“I wanted to do this once right now and talk about contracts once and then play hockey,” Wheeler said. “I didn’t want this to be a year-long thing where you come in every day and ask about stuff like that. That was where my head was at. My heart is here.”
Wheeler is one of just three players left who moved with the Thrashers from Atlanta. After being a Jet through some of the tough times, the team’s leader realizes their window to win a Stanley Cup is now wide open.
“Hopefully we’re getting to the point now where we can be a contending team year-in-and-year-out,” Wheeler said.
“He was a huge part of our season last year and how far we got. And he’s gonna be a big part of it in the future,” Jets forward Bryan Little said.
“I think he feels like all of us that we have a really good group of guys in here that all get along really well. It’s a good dressing room and fun to be a part of. I think he knew that and wanted to be a part of it for a long time.”
Wheeler is now 32 and will be 37 when the contract expires, but Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff isn’t too concerned about having an aging player carrying an $8 million cap hit.
“He’s an extraordinary athlete. He’s someone that sets the bar each and every training camp with respect to fitness,” Cheveldayoff said.
“He wasn’t one of those guys that started playing at 18 or 19 in the league and so I think the mileage on the odometer is probably a little different than the age on the clock.”
Wheeler is coming off his best season as a pro where he had a career-high 91 points. And the signing indicates Wheeler is in it for the long haul.
“With where I’m at in my career, with my age I feel like my best years are ahead of me,” Wheeler said. “And I wanted to give those years to this organization and hopefully push this team to championship levels.”