There are far bigger restricted, and possibly unrestricted, free-agent fish to fry for Kevin Cheveldayoff this off-season. But the Winnipeg Jets GM took care of some business further down his to-do list with the signing of veteran forward Dominic Toninato to a two-year deal with an average annual value of US$750,000.
The contract is a two-way deal for the coming season, but upgrades to a one-way agreement in 2022-23 for the 27-year-old native of Duluth, Minn.
Toninato signed with the Jets as a free agent prior to the 2020-21 season, but failed to pass his training camp physical as a result of complications due to COVID-19. The six-foot-one, 191-pound forward was eventually cleared to play late in the campaign and scored three goals in as many games with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL.
“Obviously it was a super tough year, not exactly how I drew it up or wanted it to go. I tried making the most of it, you just gotta try to stay positive and do what you can,” Toninato said on the CJOB Sports Show.
“You definitely don’t want to be a distraction to the team when you’re not playing. Went to the rink every day, tried working hard, got to work on some things you typically don’t get to work on during the season.”
The former Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panther played the final two games of the regular season for Winnipeg and had one assist. In 87 career NHL games, the University of Minnesota Duluth product has five goals and 10 assists for 15 points.
Toninato, originally drafted in the fifth round in 2012 by Toronto, scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the Jets’ series-opening 4-1 victory over Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs.
“First ever playoff goal, too,” Toninato said. “It was special. Couldn’t really write it up any better than that. I was excited to be out there and just being able to contribute was awesome.”
At present, Winnipeg has just 13 players signed to one-way contracts for the 2021-22 season. Not on that list are pending restricted free agents Andrew Copp, Neal Pionk and Logan Stanley.
For Toninato, the chance to have a normal season in Winnipeg was a big reason why he wanted to return.
“I liked it a lot up there, loved everything about it,” Toninato explained. “The staff, the rink, the guys, the city. I know I didn’t get to enjoy the fans, they’ve got incredible fans up there. Looking forward to getting the fans back in and enjoying that part as well.”
In the meantime, he’s back in Minnesota where he is training for the season, golfing and spending time with friends and family.