Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff put the finishing touches on a busy month Monday, one that cemented the core of his franchise for the foreseeable future and hopefully improved the club enough to be a Stanley Cup Playoff contender.
The Jets agreed to terms with Zach Bogosian on a seven-year, $36 million contract, avoiding an arbitration hearing with the 23-year-old defenseman. Bogosian was the final of five arbitration-eligible players for the Jets to agree to a deal, and along with forwards Blake Wheeler (six years, $33.6 million), Bryan Little (four years, $23.5 million) completes the task of locking up the team's core players.
"I've made it clear since my first time being in Winnipeg that it was obviously a place I wanted to be for a long time," Bogosian said. "I'm just real happy that Winnipeg believed in me and gave me another chance to prove myself. I didn't exactly have the best start to my career in Atlanta, and obviously moving up to Winnipeg gave me a new chance to play in a hockey market and play in a hockey town that I enjoy playing in front of. That's where the term came in. It was definitely a no-brainer to want to stay here for a long time."
Winnipeg now has its top four forwards (Wheeler, Little, Evander Kane and captain Andrew Ladd), four defensemen (Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien and Paul Postma) and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec under contract for at least the next three seasons.
Toss in top prospects Mark Schiefele and Jacob Trouba and the players expected to lead the Jets to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 when the franchise was in Atlanta are in place. Now they have to go about the task of becoming a consistent playoff contender.
The Jets finished in ninth place in the Eastern Conference in 2012-13, but goal prevention has been a problem for years and last season was no different. Winnipeg/Atlanta has finished no better than 25th in goals allowed per game the past four seasons.
With Kane, Ladd, Wheeler up front and offensively gifted defensemen Byfuglien, Entstrom and Bogosian in place, scoring goals is not a problem, but preventing more of them will be the key to improvement.
"I think you first have to evaluate where your group is," Cheveldayoff said. "You have to show faith in them. You have to try and show some consistency from the ownership group and the organization that you have a plan in mind and stick to it so you're not changing directions midstream.
"How close are we? I don't know. Obviously you have to play the game on the ice. I do know something: Ownership has shown a commitment to the city and ownership has shown they're willing to invest in the long-term future of this franchise. It has to start somewhere and this is a good starting point."
Bogosian was the third pick in the 2008 NHL Draft after Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty. Bogosian had five goals and 14 points in 33 games in 2012-13, after a career-high 30 points the season before. Injuries have been a problem at times: Bogosian has missed at least 11 games in four of his five seasons and 15 or more in three of them.
He averaged more than 23 minutes per game for the second straight season, and turned 23 years old earlier this month.
"Zach is still a very young player when it comes to defenseman age," Cheveldayoff said. "There is still a lot of room for his game to grow, and I think that's the exciting aspect. We have Zach locked up for what are the best years of a defenseman's career. … We know that as he continues to grow as a defenseman, his role and his leadership and all aspects of his game are going to help this team get to the next level.
"He is someone that I really believe has a tremendous amount of untapped potential. As he continues to mature as a player, he's going to blossom. His skating ability, his shot, his size, his work ethic, his physical strength -- he is a young defenseman that for us is just going to continue to grow."
The contracts for Little, Wheeler and Bogosian have left the Jets with less than $3 million in salary-cap space, according to Capgeek.com. Cheveldayoff said there could be another minor move to be made in August, but all of his major work on constructing the 2013-14 roster -- and the direction of the franchise for the next few years -- is complete.
" I know on July 5 everyone was waiting for us to make big splashes and try and sign players to unrestricted free-agent contracts, and that would have taken terms of five, six or seven years or in some cases maybe four," Cheveldayoff said. "We knew we had some players here we had we wanted to get on term and this was going to be a time that was going to happen later in the summer as it has right now."
Bogosian said, "Signing the guys that we did and getting the guys we did in free agency is obviously going to help. Every year we sit down and talk about our goals. Winning a championship and bringing the Cup to Winnipeg would be the No. 1 thing. Moving forward, we’re a better team right now. I’m just very excited to be there for the next seven years."
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