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Cheveldayoff indicates conversations are ongoing as NHL free agency opens

Jets sign Beaulieu, Jets GM indicates more may be coming

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - On a day where over $550 million was handed out on the opening day of NHL free agency, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff didn't allow the flurry of activity to force his hand.

He made one move on July 1 - inking defenceman Nathan Beaulieu to a one-year contract worth $1 million - but indicated more may be in the works.

After all, unlike the trade deadline in February, the free agency season isn't limited to how much gets done by the end of an afternoon.

"This talking period takes on its own life each and every year," said Cheveldayoff. "It brings different things and challenges - one thing it doesn't bring is a lot of sleep. It's a long process."

Even though the Jets didn't extend a qualifying offer to Beaulieu earlier this week, Cheveldayoff said the conversations were ongoing with the defenceman, who put up five assists in 18 games with the Jets since coming over at the trade deadline.

"Bringing back Nate was something we're very excited about," Cheveldayoff said. "He fits the style of play that we play. There was really good continuity right from the get go with the coaches. There is a lot of trust level with him, stepping into a big role right away when Josh was hurt. He fit in seamlessly on the ice, fit in seamlessly off the ice."

Two players who wore Jets jerseys in 2018-19 will be moving on, however.

Tyler Myers, acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, is heading back to his home province of British Columbia. He signed a five-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks worth $30 million - meanwhile Brandon Tanev, acquired as a free agent out of college in 2016, is off to Pittsburgh after signing a six-year deal.

"We can't thank them enough for their time here. Tyler coming over the in trade, just an exceptional person, he and his family. We wish them all the best," said Cheveldayoff, adding the losing players like Myers and Tanev was something he believed may have to happen, especially with the salary cap being set at $81.5 million for next season.

Tanev had a career year with the Jets in 2018-19, scoring 14 goals and finishing with 29 points.

"Brandon believed in us when he signed as a free agent. There were a lot of people that maybe looked at him and said 'what is he going to bring to the table?'" Cheveldayoff said. "But credit to our scouting staff for believing in him and credit to him for believing in us. We believe we gave him a good opportunity here, he was a big part of this team and he's going to be missed."

Even with those two veterans leaving Winnipeg, Cheveldayoff believes in the young players in the Jets system. Players like Sami Niku and Tucker Poolman have 31 and 24 games of NHL experience and could be ready to take the next step.

"Sami Niku came in during a tough situation last year and played during the year when we had our injuries. Unfortunately every time there was a chance for Tucker to come up, he was injured himself. He has experience as well," said Cheveldayoff. "He was very impressive in the games that he played. I watched him play just prior to him getting hurt at the end of the year at the AHL level and I thought his game was just outstanding.

"It wasn't long ago that a young player named Josh Morrissey came and toiled in the American Hockey League, and found his way to training camp, and lo and behold became the player that he is. This game evolves."

The Central Division was certainly active overall on July 1. 

The Nashville Predators signed Matt Duchene (seven years, $56 million). The Dallas Stars brought in Joe Pavelski (three years, $21 million), Corey Perry (one year, $1.5 million), and Andrej Sekera (one year, $1.5 million).

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild brought in Mats Zuccarello (five years, $30 million) and Ryan Hartman (two years, $3.8 million). Finally, Colorado added Joonas Donskoi (four year contract).

The division the Winnipeg Jets have finished in second spot in the last two seasons - at least on paper - seems to only be getting better.

"You see a team get a player, everyone will say 'they've gotten better, no question,'" said Cheveldayoff. "We've got a good, young roster. Our roster, generally, should get better year over year just through growth with players. This is a competitive game. We have one of the toughest divisions, as we've seen having the Stanley Cup champion come out of it. It didn't get any easier, no question."

As Cheveldayoff says - "We don't play hockey for a while yet," indicating this is just the beginning of free agency and there is still a chance for more work to be done before training camp.

"It will be interesting to see if there are other conversations that do happen throughout the course of summer," Cheveldayoff said. "Maybe through adding some things through free agency still or maybe adding through trades."

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