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Wheeler signs five-year contract extension with Jets

Forward to get $8.25 million annually, could have been UFA after this season

by Scott Billeck / Correspondent

Blake Wheeler signed a five-year, $41.25 million contract extension with the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

It has an average annual value of $8.25 million and begins next season.

The 32-year-old forward could have become an unrestricted free agent after this season; the extension keeps him with the Jets through 2023-24. He signed a six-year, $33.65 million contract July 26, 2013.

"Where I'm at in my career, with my age, I feel like my best years are ahead of me," Wheeler said. "I wanted to give those years to his organization and hopefully push this team to the championship levels. That's what you're buying into and, certainly, we have a ton of work to do to get to that point.

"I think both sides, it was something that we wanted to do. There were a lot of guys that needed to get taken care of this summer. Whether it was now or whether it was later, I think it was something both sides wanted to accomplish. Obviously, I'm really happy that it got done now."

Video: Wheeler on signing five-year extension with the Jets

Winnipeg signed restricted free agent forwards Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev and Marko Dano, defensemen Jacob Trouba and Tucker Poolman, and goalie Connor Hellebuyck this offseason.

Wheeler led the Jets and was ninth in the NHL with 91 points (23 goals, 68 assists) last season. His 68 assists tied Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux for the NHL lead. He had 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help Winnipeg reach the Western Conference Final for the first time.

"To finally kind of get over the hump a bit and have some success and play some really meaningful, fun hockey last spring, it just makes you hungry for more," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said he didn't want the talk of his contract extension or the potential to reach free agency next summer to be a distraction this season.

"I guess for me the temptation and the goal for me to lock something in here before getting to that point is that I wanted to do this once, right now, talk about contracts once and then play hockey," Wheeler said. "I didn't want this to a be a yearlong thing where we're coming in every day getting asked about stuff like that. That was where my head was at, my heart. 

"I'm a Day One guy here, been given some incredible opportunities. Even my last contract alone, I'm so blessed even to have that. The money wasn't as attractive when I look situation-wise and where I fit in in a team, in a community. I couldn't see myself anywhere else."

Video: Blake Wheeler signs five-year extension with Jets

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said he was not worried about a decline in play throughout Wheeler's contract because he began his NHL career when he was 22, later than most. Selected by the Phoenix Coyotes with the No. 5 pick of the 2004 NHL Draft, Wheeler has 605 points (222 goals, 383 assists) in 778 regular-season games with the Boston Bruins, Atlanta Thrashers and Jets.

"He's a driver of our team and he's grown into that," he said. "Blake is an interesting individual in a sense that he wasn't one of those guys who started playing at 18 or 19 in the League. I think the mileage on the odometer is a little different than the age on the clock."

Wheeler has been Jets captain since the 2016-17 season. Last season, he was a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award, which is presented to the NHL player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team on and off the ice during the regular season, and who plays a leading role in his community growing the game of hockey.

"They key is to try to keep this group, with what our team and the system and the successes we had last year, it kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up," Wheeler said. "And you want to try to keep it together as long as possible. That's where [Cheveldayoff] has a great luxury in having that problem, but it's also probably really difficult to try and manipulate. Those guys do a ton of work behind the scenes to try to keep this group together as long as possible."

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