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Jets want to bring back Stastny, get Hellebuyck signed long term

Contracts for 32-year-old center, 25-year-old goalie among offseason priorities

by Scott Billeck / NHL.com Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- Bringing back Paul Stastny is one of several key roster decisions the Winnipeg Jets face after advancing to the conference final for the first time in franchise history.

The Jets, eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday, have five pending unrestricted free agents and nine pending restricted free agents.

The most prominent of Winnipeg's pending UFA group is Stastny, who formed an instant chemistry with forwards Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine after the Jets acquired him in a trade from the St. Louis Blues ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26. The 32-year-old center had 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 19 regular-season games after the trade and 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 17 playoff games.

 

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"He's such a great pro on and off the ice," Laine said Tuesday at Bell MTS Place as the Jets met with the media for the final time this season. "He would always talk to us on the bench after, maybe if we made a mistake, and when he would make a mistake, he was kind of teaching us what to do next time. I mean, I think our game was on a different level after he came. It was real nice to play with him, and hopefully we can play together sometime in the future. But it was awesome to play with him."

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said the Jets will explore avenues to bring back all their pending UFAs and RFAs, including Stastny, who waived his no-trade clause to join Winnipeg.

"It was a great experience talking to [Stastny] in the exit meeting and hearing about his decision-making process in coming here, and his thought process after being here and moving forward," Cheveldayoff said. "There is lots of business to be done here. First and foremost, we have to wait for the [NHL salary] cap to be set. We have a lot of work ahead of us from the business side."

Along with Stastny, defenseman Toby Enstrom, goalie Michael Hutchinson and forwards Shawn Matthias and Matt Hendricks can become UFAs on July 1.

Cheveldayoff praised how seamlessly Stastny integrated into the Jets lineup.

"It's amazing how a player like that can come into your lineup and feel like he's been a part of it forever," he said. "That type of chemistry and symmetry, that is testament to the type of person he is and how tight our group was."

Video: What is next for the Winnipeg Jets?

Stastny said his camp will talk to the Jets in the coming weeks about re-signing.

"Probably the best decision I ever made was (coming to Winnipeg)," Stastny said. "It made the game that much more fun again."

Getting goalie Connor Hellebuyck signed to a long-term contract is high on the Jets' priority list. A Vezina Trophy finalist who set a Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise record for most wins in a season (44), the 25-year-old can become an RFA on July 1.

"I love playing here," said Hellebuyck, who will begin next season playing on his third professional contract. "I love the fan base. Nothing could make me more happy than signing long term. But that's the business side of hockey that is so unpredictable."

Defenseman Jacob Trouba is one of the nine pending RFAs, a list that also includes forwards Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia, Marko Dano and Adam Lowry, and defensemen Josh Morrissey, Tucker Poolman and Joe Morrow.

Trouba said he doesn't want to let his contract situation linger into next season. The 24-year-old missed the first 15 games of the 2016-17 season during a contract stalemate with the Jets. In July 2016, Trouba requested a trade but signed a two-year contract Nov. 7.

"The quicker, the better," Trouba said. "I haven't put a whole ton of thought into it yet. I'm sure in the next week or two or couple of days I'll meet with my agent and we'll go over stuff. We'll see where it goes from there. Talk to [Cheveldayoff], and I'm sure something will be worked out."

Trouba and Morrissey, 23, have formed a formidable defense pair.

"I love being a Winnipeg Jet," Morrissey said. "All those things get taken care of in the offseason. Right now, it's so soon after the year, still really disappointed with the way things ended."

The Jets made it to the conference final in their seventh season since the franchise relocated to Winnipeg. The Thrashers never advanced in the Eastern Conference playoffs in 11 seasons in Atlanta.

Laine, forwards Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler, and defenseman Tyler Myers are among the Jets who can become free agents July 1, 2019; Laine and Connor would be RFAs, and Wheeler and Myers would be UFAs. Each can sign a contract extension beginning July 1.

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