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Cheveldayoff, Jets put 'best foot forward,' but Stastny moves on

"It was never a situation about willing to pay or anything like that. It was about what we were able to do."

by Ryan Dittrick @ryandittrick /

WINNIPEG - Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets put their best foot forward - in fact, "maybe six inches beyond (their) best foot" - but when the clock struck midnight and contracts across the NHL expired ahead of Sunday's 'Free Agent Frenzy,' the harsh reality of the salary cap world ruled the day.

Paul Stastny is now a Vegas Golden Knight for the next three years at $6.5 million per.

Video: FREE AGENCY | Jets Perspective

It was a deal too rich for a Jets team pressed up against the cap, and with another of high-profile restricted free agents in need of new contracts over the course of the summer.

The Jets offered Stastny the same three-year term, but couldn't offer the same money, even after clearing more than $5 million in cap space in Saturday's trade with the Montreal Canadiens.

"It was something we hoped would potentially come together, but knew it would come with some challenges," Cheveldayoff said. "We were able to cross the first hurdle and create the ability just to speak with him when we made the move to clear some cap space, and then if we were fortunate enough to have got him, there would have been more surgery that would have been needed on the (existing) roster as well.

"It was never a situation about willing to pay or anything like that. It was about what we were able to do."

And with Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry and others in need of a raise, it just wasn't in the cards. After some long nights and plenty of back and forth over the past week, it was late Saturday when the Stastny camp informed the Jets that they would be moving on.    

"The final conversations are always difficult for both sides because you put so much time and energy and emotion into it," Cheveldayoff said. "I haven't had a chance to speak with Paul, but I know it was a very difficult decision for him given the length of time that we talked about things."

Stastny was acquired from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Erik Foley and a first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. (A conditional fourth-round pick in 2020 was also included in the February trade, but the conditions were not met and the Jets retained the pick, until it was traded to Montreal in Saturday's deal that sent Steve Mason and Joel Armia to the Habs.)

Stastny, 32, recorded four goals and 13 points in 19 regular-season games, before adding 15 points (6G, 9A) in 17 playoff games.

"We had a great conversation and he expressed his willingness and his desire to - if we could make it work - come back, but when it's all said and done, you guys are going to look at the salary cap and the roster and say, 'How were they going to do this anyway?'" Cheveldayoff said.

"We've got a good group of guys here, but we've got a lot of work to do on our RFAs. That's where things pick up on Jul. 2."

And that isn't all.

Captain Blake Wheeler, who's coming off a career year, is entering the final year of his contract, and 44-goal man Patrik Laine has just one year left on his $925,000 AAV entry level deal. Both players are now eligible to be extended for the 2019-2020 season and beyond, and both are likely to cash in when deals are finalized.  

Video: FREE AGENCY | Kevin Cheveldayoff

"It's all in due course," the GM said of those negotiations. "For us, we've got a plan and we're going to work at executing it."

It's that type of discipline and long-term forecasting that prevented the Jets from matching Vegas' winning bid.

"Hockey is a great game but can be an awful business sometimes. That's the reality of the good problems in front of us and keeping this good, solid team together."

Cheveldayoff is confident the Jets have the players internally to help fill the void left by the veteran pivot, and expects to see plenty of competition across the lineup when training camp opens in the fall.

Jack Roslovic might have the inside track, having played centre with the Manitoba Moose and showing well with the Jets in a half season's work, plus
10 playoff games earlier this spring.

Marko Dano, Nic Petan, 2017 first-round pick Kristian Vesalainen and others will make a push as well.

"We all saw, (Roslovic) brought great energy and skill to our lineup and he's made great strides over the course of his young career," Cheveldayoff said.

"It will be a great opportunity for him.

"There's lots of options for (Head Coach) Paul (Maurice) to mix and match."

- Ryan Dittrick,

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