WINNIPEG - Locked up, long term.
Mark Scheifele is here to stay.
The cornerstone centre signed an eight-year, $49 million contract ($6.125 million AAV) Friday, keeping him in Winnipeg through the 2023-24 season.
"It's so exciting. I haven't stopped smiling," Scheifele, 23, said via conference call late Friday afternoon. "It's an unbelievable organization. The way they treat players, the way I've been treated is (first class). I believe in the organization, I believe in the players and I believe in the prospects. It's an honour for me, and that's what made it such an easy choice. I'm so honoured and so unbelievably happy."
General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff called it a "monumental day" for the Jets and the city of Winnipeg, reflecting back to the 2011 draft when Scheifele was chosen as the franchise's
first pick after relocating from Atlanta.
"The comments that were made in our draft room and by our scouts, and the anticipation of our entire market… It was a monumental moment then and this is a monumental moment right
now," Cheveldayoff said.
"He wanted to be a Jet. That was first and foremost in his mind."
Scheifele's deal will kick in right away and includes a limited no-trade clause (10 teams) in the UFA-covered years. The eight-year term is the maximum allowed under the collective
bargaining agreement and was a priority for both sides when negotiating the deal.
Scheifele sees the potential, citing the Dustin Byfuglien signing as even more reason to commit long term.
"When you see a guy like Dustin Byfuglien sign for five more years, you definitely get excited about that. He's a special player, he's an elite player and one of the best defencemen in the league. … That's definitely someone you want on your team. That was huge for me."
"That was a big determining factor in Dustin signing and vice-versa here today," Cheveldayoff added.
"That speaks volumes.
"I remember when I sat down with Buff when we were getting close and I looked him straight in the eye and said, 'Why do you want to sign?' He talked about the youth, players like Mark, other young guys we have in the organization and understanding that it takes time to build a championship team."
Both players - Byfuglien and Scheifele - believe the Jets can contend for a Stanley Cup in the not-too-distant future.
Scheifele, who was one of the Jets' five restricted free agents entering the off-season, is getting a healthy raise from his $863,000 entry-level salary, but isn't planning on spending it lavishly. He does, however, have plans to take his family and agent out for a nice dinner in the near future.
"That's the first thing. I'm going to take them out for dinner, maybe get a golf round in with them and celebrate."
Scheifele, who's entering his fourth season after being drafted with the seventh pick in 2011, led the team with a career-high 29 goals last year, finishing second to Blake Wheeler in overall point production with 61, which was also a career best.
Scheifele took over as the team's No. 1 centre after Bryan Little suffered a season-ending neck injury after all-star break, giving the Kitchener product 'A' minutes alongside Wheeler and the highly skilled Nikolaj Ehlers . He ended the year on a 10-game point-scoring streak and sat atop the NHL with 33 points (16G, 17A) in the final 26 games, including nine multi-point efforts, before playing for Team Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Russia. There, he amassed four goals, nine points and a +8 rating in nine games en route to a gold medal - his first at the men's level.
"I'm definitely happy with the progression [of my career]," Scheifele said. "Each and every year you want to get better. You always want to build. I'm happy, but I know there's a long way to go. Signing this deal does nothing. It's all about what happens on the ice. That's what matters. I'm going to continue to work on my game to become the best player I can be. There's a lot of hard work
ahead but I'm ready for it.
"That's my goal, to be one of the elite players in the league, and one of the best players in the league."
Scheifele has become a leader in the community as well, participating in a number of charity events to raise funds for those less fortunate; this, after hosting a three-day hockey camp and golf tournament just last week for KidSport Winnipeg.
"That's the big thing. I wouldn't have wanted to stick around if Winnipeg wasn't such a great community," he said. "I've been getting more and more involved in the community and I've wanted to give back because they are so important to each and every one of us as players. They come, they cheer us on every single night and they are definitely owed a lot of credit for what they do, for supporting us through thick and thin."
Cheveldayoff said the original Jets were revered for their work in the community, and that Scheifele is a throwback to that era.
"The players really embraced the community and the community really embraced them. … You get paid for what you do on the ice and how you play the game, but the bonus is the emotional ties,
the giving, and the genuine desire to be part of a community like that."
Do that, and the community will love you right back.
Like Scheifele said: There's nothing - nothing - like playing in Winnipeg.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com