Adam Lowry knew exactly what he was looking for and wasn’t worried about where else he might be able to find it.
That’s why the imposing centre took a pass on his first crack at unrestricted free agency and inked a five-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets on Friday that was worth $16.25 million and carries an average annual value of $3.25 million.
Had Lowry chosen instead to hit the open market, there’s a good chance his AAV would have started with a four, but the opportunity to remain in a place where he knows exactly where he fits in and how much he’s valued weighed heavily in his decision.
“It’s such a good fit. Starting here, being drafted here, it’s one of those things if you have the opportunity to play your whole career with one organization, you want to jump at that opportunity,” said Lowry.
“The first chance to go to unrestricted free agency can sometimes be enticing, but knowing the coaching staff here, knowing what the organization’s like, it’s such a hard opportunity to pass up, being able to sign this extension.
“I know my role in this organization, I love my teammates, I love playing for this team. I’m thrilled I got it done.”
Lowry, 28, is in the midst of an impressive bounce-back season after being limited to 45 games in 2019-20.
Along with recording eight goals and 20 points in 45 games so far, Lowry is regularly tasked with the job of trying to shut down the opposition’s most offensive players and he’s grown into an important member of the Jets leadership group.
This deal came together quickly and allows both sides to keep the focus on the ice during the stretch run and into the playoffs, rather than worrying about what the future might hold.
“I talked to (Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff) and he mentioned that generally, Winnipeg doesn’t do a lot of extensions mid-season. They generally wait for the start of the season or the end of the season to get it done,” said Lowry.
“But I think it was important we both wanted to get a deal done, we both wanted to reach a deal, and both sides made that known. I’m happy it didn’t take too long and we were able to come to terms that I think we’re both happy with. It was one of those things that it’s nice to have out of the way, it’s nice to know where I’ll be.
“It’s one of those things where you look at the makeup of teams in the NHL and the league seems to be getting younger every year. Older guys seem to be getting phased out. Five years is a long way down the road. That was one of the reasons why we felt that term was important. It gives me some security and allows me to know where I’ll be.
“Hopefully I can play well past this contract, but as of right now I’m going to enjoy it and hopefully continue to stay healthy this year. We have a long playoff push before I start looking down the road too far.”
Family is important to Lowry and while he’s enjoyed having his parents living in the same city as him and having father Dave join the Jets coaching staff, that wasn’t the driving force in this decision.
“I don’t think if my dad wasn’t brought in that would have changed my desire to stay in Winnipeg long term. It’s an added bonus,” said Lowry.
“It’s nice having him on the bench. Being able to interact with him and work with him every day, see how he approaches his job, and see the hard work he puts in. But that wouldn’t have changed my opinion of Winnipeg, or changed my desire to stay here. It’s a terrific organization from top to bottom.
“We have a lot of great people in this organization, I’ve got a lot of very close friends on the team. Growing up in this organization, being drafted, coming up through the AHL, ultimately making the NHL and playing my first seven years in Winnipeg — it was important to me. I wanted to stay here.
“I’m very lucky that I get to go to work and my dad happens to be there and be one of my bosses. I don’t think it had any impact either way, it’s just a cherry on top.”
Lowry was asked to project into the future and make a prediction on how he hoped the deal would be viewed by the end of it.
“I hope it’s one that we would look at it from year one through five that I can stay consistent, I can stay the same player and have a positive impact in the community, on the ice, off the ice, and things like that,” he said.
“As you get older there’s going to be different factors that affect how you play, but it’s about adapting to those things, it’s about finding new ways to maintain that edge, whether it’s physically, mentally, continue to be kind of an integral, important player for this team.
“I know my role is not necessarily to score goals, but if I can contribute at that end of the rink while still playing solid defensively, contribute on the penalty kill and can do that and continue to get better, I think there’s still areas of my game I can improve.
“You look at different age groups and you kind of say guys peak at 25, 26, 27, depending on what models you look at, I still think there’s areas of my game I can improve and I look forward to putting in the time. Hopefully we can look back over these five years and I had a positive impact on the team.”
Lowry doesn’t wear a letter, but could be a future captain and his importance to the organization has always stretched beyond the stats you might find on the back of his hockey card.
“He’s coming into his prime and we’re going to get five prime years out of this guy,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice.
“When you’re trying to win and you feel you’re in the wheelhouse, you look around the league at the other teams, they were all adding veteran players at the deadline as hopefully the piece that puts them over. They didn’t say, ‘Hey let’s trade all our older guys to get younger so we can win more.’
“I consider him a mid-range, he’s coming into mid-life in the NHL. He’s going to hit that fifth year (of the new contract) and be a better player possibly, maybe he’s a few minutes less, but you’re going to add five years of experience to a veteran, hard-working guy.”
With Lowry locked up, another item is removed from Cheveldayoff’s to-do list, but there will be an impact on this summer’s Seattle Kraken expansion draft.
Lowry will be one of the seven forwards protected by the Jets — a list that also figures to include captain Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Andrew Copp.
That means Mason Appleton could be available to Seattle, unless a side deal is brokered like the one that saw the Vegas Golden Knights choose Chris Thorburn in 2017.
Copp is the only player on that list who is a restricted free agent and he’s one season away from unrestricted free agency.
He’s in line for a raise and the question turns to whether he might be the next player to commit longer-term to the Jets (a list that also includes defenceman Neal Pionk, another prominent RFA-to-be).
After expressing his happiness for his friend and longtime linemate, Copp was asked about what impact the deal could have on his future.
“As a friend, that’s all you want, for your close friends and teammates to be rewarded for what they bring on a day-to-day basis. It was awesome to see that and for the team it’s great because he’s such a cornerstone piece of our team and part of the core,” said Copp.
“Great in the room, great on the ice, provides an element that is kind of unique on our team. Really, really happy for him and to get him locked in for five years is great for us going forward.
“I’m just trying to worry about trying to get better in my game and continuing to try to push to get home ice in the playoffs and have a good close-out to the season and a good playoffs.
“Not really thinking about my contract situation right now, or trying not to. I’m just kind of worried about getting better each game and playing to the best of my ability. All that will take care of itself in the off-season.”
Copp has already established career-highs in goals (14), assists (20) and points (34) and time on ice (18:23, an increase of five-plus minutes from his career average).
He’s also grown into a core piece and member of the team’s leadership and is heavily invested in what the Jets are trying to accomplish.
In a flat cap world, establishing fair market value and buying UFA years can be a bit of a challenge for teams but there’s no doubt the Jets want to have Copp in the fold moving forward.
Some observers think that got more difficult with the signing of Lowry, but I’d argue the opposite.
Since Lowry became the latest player on more of a team-friendly deal, there’s a bigger piece of the pie available to make a commitment to Copp — whose AAV figures to start with a four, depending on the term.
With Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey, Wheeler, Scheifele, Ehlers, Connor and Lowry already under contract for three to seven more seasons after this one, adding Copp would align perfectly with the Jets’ current window to try to win.
“Obviously, all the other core guys that are signed on long-term, I think it gives (the Jets) some cost-certainty, especially within a flat cap. All our contracts are guys that are worth what they’re making, or worth more,” said Copp.
“We don’t have bad deals that we’re having to move around or get rid of or anything like that. In the flat-cap world, it’s almost like we might be at an advantage because of our situation. It’s just seeing the commitment and the belief that everyone has in each other and trying to push that into a Stanley Cup championship team.
“I don’t think guys are looking to leave, and I think guys are taking contracts that they think are fair to kind of go all-in on this team going as deep as we can.”
Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.