When I was a kid, all I remember of the Winnipeg Jets is that they were given a new lease on life as the Phoenix Coyotes. Now, they are back after doing the same thing for the Atlanta Thrashers, and after years of high draft picks they could finally be on the right track to making a winner. It does seem that the only thing in their way of becoming a true playoff contender is not being able to manage the salary cap correctly. But, it seems at least for this moment in time that the players are starting to think of Winnipeg as a place that they want to play, long-term.
“For me, it was virtually a no-brainer. I sat down with my agent, Matt Keator, in the spring and we had the discussion. He asked ‘what do you want to do? I have no problem being the guy to get you to UFA if that’s where your heart is, if you don’t want to be where you are.’ I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘this is where I want to be.’” Blake Wheeler said after signing his extension with the Jets.
That’s pretty powerful stuff for a franchise that can’t seem to be able to land Mikhail Grabovski, but those are the growing pains of trying to make a team into a contender. Still for Winnipeg they have been nothing but winners this off-season. They started by bringing in Devon Setguchi via trade, and then kept it going by giving Bryan Little a contract extension. Both of those moves were winners, and helped propel the team to staying relevant in the future, and help to ensure that they could try to lock up their other key free agents. As we now know they were able to do so, locking up Blake Wheeler (six years, and $33.6 million) and by just re-signing Zach Bogosian (seven years $36 million). Bringing back three important pieces of your present and future is important but it can also be expensive. But just as important is bringing in new talent, sometimes when you’re trying to become a winner you can’t convince a player like Grabovski to come, but you can get a player like Setoguchi via trade.
As we all know most teams become winners because of their development of young players and a few key free agent signings to put themselves over the top (see Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings). While not every team will fit that mold and try to win that way it seems as though the Winnipeg Jets are trying to win the “right way” and that is by developing their own talent; and bringing in some key important pieces to try to push themselves into the playoffs.
I’m honesty I’m not sure if the Jets are there yet or not. But I do know this; if I was an NHL player I would want to play them a lot less now then I did last year. It’s not about player addition alone, because Setoguchi alone wouldn’t scare anyone, it’s about the belief that they have placed on Kane, Little, Wheeler and Bogosian. These players are the future of the franchise, and if the Jets are going to become winners it’s on the backs of these four.
If I were a Jets fan I would be really excited for the future, because one thing is for sure. While the Jets may not be a destination for free agents yet, it is a destination to keep its own players and some times that’s more important than bringing in a key free agent; or two.