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Hellebuyck contract first of many for Jets to get done

Have six remaining RFAs, plus Laine, Wheeler entering final year, after goalie agrees to terms

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Connor Hellebuyck had a mandate for the Winnipeg Jets after agreeing to a six-year, $37 million contract on Thursday.

The 25-year-old goalie knows his contract is the first in a complicated puzzle the Jets must continue to piece together over the next several months.

"I want all the guys to get locked down, hopefully long term," Hellebuyck said of Winnipeg's six remaining restricted free agents. "Because I really believe every piece that we need is in this locker room, and I know we have a good GM (Kevin Cheveldayoff), that they're going to take a good, long look at this team. I think they know we have what it takes."

 

[RELATED: Hellebuyck agrees to six-year contract with Jets | NHL Free Agent Tracker]

 

Video: Connor Hellebuyck signs six-year contract with Jets

Beyond the six RFAs (defensemen Josh Morrissey, Tucker Poolman, Jacob Trouba; forwards Marko Dano, Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev), defenseman Tyler Myers and forwards Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine each is entering the final season of his contract.

Wheeler, the captain, and Myers each can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2019. Laine, who is playing on his entry-level contract, can become an RFA after this season and is looking at a potentially substantial pay raise after scoring 80 goals in his first two NHL seasons.

Winnipeg (52-20-10) had a franchise-record 114 points last season, second in the Central Division and NHL behind the Nashville Predators, and reached the Western Conference Final, which it lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.

Hellebuyck said he believes the Jets can go further now that they have Stanley Cup Playoff experience.

Video: MIN@WPG, Gm5: Hellebuyck silences Wild in shutout win

"They're young, they're hungry," Cheveldayoff said. "There's a good core of veterans that want to lead, there's a good core of middle players that are drivers, and there's some really, really good young players that gained some valuable experience.

"… I think [Hellebuyck] realizes that he's part of it, but I don't think, to a man, whether it's a one-year deal or a six-year deal or a two-year deal, whatever it is that we come up with for all the RFAs this summer, I don't think to a man there's anyone that says, 'We've arrived.' There's a lot of work that's left to be done."

The Jets have been built through a methodical draft-and-develop approach. Hellebuyck, Laine, Morrissey, Trouba and forwards Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Adam Lowry and Kyle Connor were drafted by Winnipeg.

They've become important parts of the Jets since joining Wheeler, forward Bryan Little and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who each moved to Winnipeg when the franchise relocated in 2011 after playing as the Atlanta Thrashers. Now the bill is due for many of those drafted players.

Video: WPG@MIN, Gm4: Hellebuyck stymies Wild for shutout

The Jets have six players under contract for at least the next three seasons: Hellebuyck ($6.167 million average annual value), Ehlers (seven seasons, $6 million AAV), Scheifele (six seasons, $6.125 million AAV), Little (six seasons, $5.29 million AAV), Byfuglien (three seasons, $7.6 million AAV) and forward Mathieu Perreault (three seasons, $4.125 AAV).

Fitting more long-term contracts under the NHL salary cap ($79.5 million this season) will be difficult.

Four of the six remaining RFAs filed for salary arbitration and have been assigned a hearing date (Trouba, July 20; Lowry, July 22; Tanev, July 25; and Dano, July 30). The Jets and Hellebuyck avoided arbitration with his contract. 

While trying to settle the four arbitration cases, the Jets will be thinking about possible contract extensions for Wheeler, Myers and Laine, among others.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us, whether it's in the RFA market here right now or obviously in the future," Cheveldayoff said.

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