WINNIPEG – Grant Clitsome’s name is off the list but plenty remain as the Winnipeg Jets work their way through a long list of restricted and unrestricted free agents.
Clitsome has signed a three-year extension with the Jets for a reported US$6.2 million, almost double what he was making, keeping him off the free-agent market.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Wednesday they liked what they saw from the 28-year-old defencemen during the lockout-shortened season, particularly at the end when they were coping with injuries.
“The last 33 games of the season last year he had 14 points, he was plus 14, he was averaging 21 minutes a night,” said Cheveldayoff.
“His game seemed to step up.”
He finished the season with a plus-10 rating after 44 games, the best of any Jets defenceman. Not bad for a player picked up on waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012.
At just 28, he’s also younger than many of the other defencemen on the pending free agent market and Cheveldayoff says he still sees potential for growth.
For his part, Clitsome said he wanted to stick with the Jets.
“They took a chance on me when they picked me up on waivers and gave me an opportunity to show I can play in the league,” said the native of Gloucester, Ont.
“I like the coaching staff and the management and I’ve been treated first class the whole way. The whole time it was definitely a priority for me to sign in Winnipeg.”
The Jets have also said they’re interested in keeping unrestricted free agent Al Montoya as backup netminder to Ondrej Pavelec. He played in only seven games last season and started just five, but finished with a record of 3-1-0.
Cheveldayoff said Wednesday he had been talking with Montoya’s agent “as recently as last night.”
The Jets are ready to let some of the unrestricted list test the market but they’ve already made qualifying offers to their list of 13 restricted free agents.
That list includes two-thirds of their top line, centre Bryan Little and right-winger Blake Wheeler, as well as key defenceman Zach Bogosian.
Cheveldayoff says some of the high-profile deals will likely take longer to conclude. But it’s like a big jigsaw puzzle as he works through which players to keep and which new players he might be able to add.
“There are a lot of moving parts here,” said Cheveldayoff.
“You’re kind of looking at all of your options. Looking at what might be available in front of you.”
That includes free agents coming on the market this week as well as possible trades, he said.
The Jets are looking for a right-winger to pair with Evander Kane on their second line and also could do with another top-six centre.
They may have more room for deals under the salary cap, which comes down $6 million this season, than some other teams. But how much they have to pay to retain their restricted free agents will ultimately determine that number.
There are players already in the Jets’ system who might fill some of their needs but whether they are ready yet also remains a question mark.
They have centre Mark Scheifele finally coming up from junior this season and he has matured significantly since he first tried to crack the lineup in 2011-12.
But after two disappointing finishes in their new home, the Jets are looking to finally make the playoffs and must do it in a new conference as they move west under realignment.
Other deals may be in the works as free-agent talks get under way in earnest, and Cheveldayoff at least appears a little more engaged than he might have in past years.
“The interview period has started and we are active in that regard,” he said.
“There have been conversations that we’ve had and will continue to have for the different positions that might be available.”