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Jets add Stempniak, depth in push for playoffs

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

WINNIPEG – While the Jets were putting the finishing touches on a 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings, General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was busy burning up the phone lines.

In a buzzer-beater late Sunday evening, the Jets acquired forward Lee Stempniak from the New York Rangers in exchange for Carl Klingberg.

Stempniak is the fourth player to be added to the roster in the last three weeks, furthering an earlier vow that the club was going “all-in” for a playoff push.

“We’re looking good,” the team’s leading goal-scorer, Bryan Little, said following Monday’s practice at MTS Centre. “With Stempniak, (Tyler) Myers, (Drew Stafford) and (Jiri) Tlusty, we’ve added a lot of depth to our team. We can roll four lines right now, which is huge. You can put three scoring lines out there at any time. … You can only do that when you’ve got the depth that we have right now.”

Little has 24 goals and 51 points this season, second only to captain Andrew Ladd by the slimmest of margins.

Truly, the Jets are as deep as they are talented – and the new acquisitions have become key figures in that identity.

“It’s shaping up well,” Jets defenceman Mark Stuart said. “The guys that we’re bringing in are guys that can excel in our system. They all skate well, and every one of them has been able to step in
and have success right away.

“I’m sure it won’t be any different for Stempniak.”

Since arriving from Buffalo, Stafford and Myers have combined for four goals and 10 points. Tlusty? An assist last night for his point as a Jet, two games in.

In 53 games this season, Stempniak, 32, has nine goals and nine assists, 18 penalty minutes and a +7 rating. In 690 career games with the Blues, Leafs, Coyotes, Flames, Penguins and Rangers, the 5-foot-11, 196-pound product of West Seneca, New York, has recorded 159 goals and 359 points.

“I’m good with where we’re at,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to be adding. The players in that room have earned the right to be on the side of a buying group. … There’s a positive vibe. The veteran core guys that have been looking to be on this side of the
ledger appreciate it.”

Stempniak, Stafford, Tlusty and five others are all UFAs at season’s end, but Maurice doesn’t consider that an issue.

“We want and only want players that want to play in Winnipeg and we’ve got a big chunk of them now – guys that don’t mind that it’s -15 outside. But that’s because they like being in the city and they like being in this room and that’s really important to us. We’ve got some guys that are UFAs and they get to see the good things about Winnipeg. It’s easier then to convince those guys to stay. They’re coming into a positive environment and we’ve got a great fan base here.

"Buy a thicker coat. They’ll be all right.”

Stempniak has not yet arrived in Winnipeg but is expected to participate in practice on Tuesday.

By then, the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline – otherwise known by the 140-character friendly portmanteau, #NHLTrade – will be a thing of the past.

Stuart, a pending unrestricted free agent at this time last year, isn’t at all bothered by the significance of the day.

“No sense watching it,” Stuart said of what’s become a national television event. “It’s a whole lot of nothing for the most part. If (a trade) happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Stuart signed a four-year extension just prior to the deadline.

Here in 2015, Michael Frolik has found himself in a similar situation, though the plans for 2015-16 and beyond have yet to be finalized.

“I try to keep an eye on it so I know what’s going on,” Frolik said of the rumour mill. “I just want to play the game and not worry about (a new contract). That stuff is for my agent to deal with, so I’m just focused on hockey.”

Frolik, who has 13 goals and 33 points in 63 games this season, will become an unrestricted free agent if he is not signed before 11am CT on Jul. 1.

"I did have a conversation with Michael Frolik’s agent and basically what I told him was, ‘Look, I’m not trading Michael,'" General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said at a press conference after the deadline.

"I didn’t want any misconceptions out there that there was a possibility that I was trading him at this point in time."

— Ryan Dittrick,

This story will be updated.

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