Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff went into the off season with a very challenging to do list. And the Jets hockey boss has managed to check off most of the boxes.
He bolstered the defence by acquiring Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt for draft picks. Cheveldayoff managed to re-sign highly respected veteran center Paul Stastny for a reasonable sum of $US375-million. He added some experienced pros up front for league minimum salaries in Riley Nash and Dominic Toninato.
And Cheveldayoff completed his assignments by signing a trio of restricted free agents in defencemen Logan Stanley and Neal Pionk, along with forward Andrew Copp.
Stanley was pretty much a “standard procedure” type of scenario in agreeing to a two-year deal with an average annual value of $US900,000. Far more complicated was finding common ground with Pionk and Copp, who had arbitration hearings scheduled for Aug. 13 and 26 respectively.
Pionk agreed to a four-year deal with an AAV of $US5.875-million on Wednesday. And while there is a suggestion he might have sacrificed a few dollars, especially by foregoing his first two years of unrestricted agency as part of that deal, the 26-year-old Hermantown, Minn., native told reporters on Thursday he is satisfied with how it all worked out.
“It’s all part of negotiation. I think each side probably had to give up a little bit – and that’s where we kind of met in the middle negotiating so to speak,” said Pionk.
“Maybe some people said I left money on the table, my good friends say I’m overpaid. It depends on who you ask.”
Copp could have left the salary cap strapped Jets between the proverbial rock and a hard place by pushing for a salary that could have been beyond the hockey club ability to pay and stay under the $US81.5-million ceiling. But he didn’t feel entirely comfortable with that kind of strategy.
“I guess I could have pushed and tried to get a longer term deal out of this. I guess I could have pushed for it the Jets weren’t the ones to do that someone else would have, but I didn’t really think that was the right thing to do,” said Copp when asked if he felt like he “took one for the team” by accepting a one year deal for $US3.64-million.
“I don’t want to say I wasn’t a team guy, but at the same time they probably gave me more than I would have got in arbitration from accounts that we’ve looked at.”
Copp went through the grinding process that is an arbitration hearing just over two years ago, and while he said avoiding a second such experience wasn’t the incentive for getting this deal done well ahead of his scheduled Aug. 26 hearing, Pionk admitted that was not something he wanted to experience.
“I don’t think either side wants to go to arbitration,” said the smooth-skating but hard-hitting blueliner who was about 48 hours from an Aug. 13 hearing when his deal was announced.
“Obviously I’ve heard it’s kind of a messy process and we came to the conclusion that this was the best deal for both sides.”
And Copp says once the contract was announced for Pionk, that pretty much set the parameters for his deal — which did not turn out to be the long-term pact he’d been aiming for when the Jets playoff run ended in early June.
“Our first conversation happened in June and they asked what we wanted term-wise and we were kinda thinking in that 4-5 year range,” said Copp. “With how the expansion draft set out and with the trades that we made, the cap space went away pretty quickly.
“So it was pretty much one year was the agreed-upon term, because that was basically available and from there it was pretty easy.”
What won’t be quite as easy to determine is what kind of moves Cheveldayoff and his hockey operations will make to remain salary cap compliant.
It’s pretty much expected the Jets will be one of those teams that have to go with a 21 or 22 player roster for the regular season. Former AHL Defenseman of the Year, Sami Niku, is a likely candidate to be waived, and then sent to the Moose or perhaps Europe if there are no takers for his services.
That would leave Nathan Beaulieu as the seventh defenceman. But he’ll also have to clear waivers so that Winnipeg will be able to activate Bryan Little’s $US5.29-million in LTIR dollars — pretty much a repeat of what happened last January with Mathieu Perreault.
And up front, the Jets might have to go with just 12 forwards, leaving no room for Moose Player of the Year David Gustafsson to stick as the 13th man. Purely for economic reasons.
Those are just a couple of potential scenarios. But the bottom line is Winnipeg will go into the season as a contender, and that’s what also eases whatever disappointment Copp might have about having to take it a year at a time — again.
“You look at the trades, we didn’t lose any NHL players off our roster and we added two really valuable d-men that are great players in this league and bring something different — different from each other and different from what we had back there,” said Copp in reference to Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt.
“We’ve got a really well-rounded defensive corps now, and depth back there now too. We like where we’re sitting right now and it will be up to us to go out and make it happen.”