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Laine agreeing to contract some good news for Jets

Without Connor, Byfuglien, free agent forward on board in time for season opener

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Patrik Laine's two-year, $13.5 million contract, agreed to Friday, is a break in the uncertainty and disappointment that has blanketed the Winnipeg Jets.

"Any negotiation, like I've always said, it takes its own life with some twists and some turns," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. "Again, it's about getting to the destination, and we're excited that we were able to agree to terms today."

Laine, who was a restricted free agent, missed training camp and five preseason games. He is returning from Switzerland, where he was training with SC Bern while contract talks continued.

The 21-year-old forward scored 110 goals in the past three seasons, sixth in the NHL.

"We're dealing with an elite player here," Cheveldayoff said. "If you look at his stats, what he's accomplished at 18, 19 and 20 years old, there's not many players that have done that. Again, that's the uniqueness of the situation here.

"That's what makes it most exciting for us with Patrik, that I think we're just starting to scratch the surface of what he actually brings to the table here. We've got an opportunity here to see it all unfold in front of our eyes. We're a team that's growing, a team that's maturing."

Winnipeg, still without restricted free agent forward Kyle Connor, needs a few more good-news days like this.

An early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in six games against the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference First Round, began a downward trend in April, ending a season of high expectations after the Jets reached the Western Conference Final in 2018.

Video: Laine, Jets agree to two-year, $13.5 million deal

This offseason, Winnipeg's free agents led to significant roster turnover.

Defenseman Jacob Trouba, about to become an restricted free agent for a second straight year, was traded to the New York Rangers on June 17, with Winnipeg choosing to avoid another possible salary arbitration and his looming unrestricted free agency. The Jets got defenseman Neal Pionk and the No. 20 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, which was used on 18-year-old defenseman Ville Heinola, a promising prospect who impressed in training camp.

Three regulars from last season each signed elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent: defenseman Tyler Myers (Vancouver Canucks), defenseman Ben Chiarot (Montreal Canadiens) and forward Brandon Tanev (Pittsburgh Penguins).

Then, when the Jets opened training camp, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien asked for a leave of absence for personal reasons. The 34-year-old reportedly is contemplating retirement, and Winnipeg could be without four of its top five defensemen from last season.

Cheveldayoff said the term and the average annual value of $6.75 million were the right fit for Laine, but the GM wouldn't comment on negotiations with Connor.

"We had to make some tough decisions this year," Cheveldayoff said. "You're dealing with [an NHL salary cap] that's a hard one, and sometimes you have to make those tough decisions. We were trying to find a number that would work for both sides and keep as much of the team together as possible."

The Jets open the season with four road games in six days, starting Oct. 3 at the New York Rangers.

"As excited as I am, I've got to put my work boots back on and keep on grinding," Cheveldayoff said. "I'm a realist. I just deal with what's in front of me. We'll continue working on it."

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