Winnipeg Jets keep goalie Ondrej Pavelec in fold with US$19.5 million

WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets head into the summer with their No. 1 goalie happily in the fold.

The Jets announced Monday they have come to terms with Ondrej Pavelec. The new deal is worth US$19.5-million over five years.

The 24-year-old Pavelec, who made $1.3 million last season, was eligible to become a restricted free agent this summer.

“We’re very excited about locking Ondrej up and we’re actually even more excited that Ondrej wants to commit and be a part of the process of the Winnipeg Jets moving forward,” said GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Pavelec said it was not a difficult decision.

“You always want to stay as long as you can in a city you like,” he said by phone from his native Czech Republic. “It’s something I was looking for … It was easy to sign a five-year deal that’s for sure.”

He said he likes the atmosphere in Winnipeg and the fan support, even though he admitted the Jets didn’t always play their best last season. The former Atlanta Thrashers missed the playoffs again.

Pavelec appeared in 68 games, compiling a 29-28-9 record, 2.91 goals against average and 0.906 save percentage. He was originally drafted by Atlanta in the second round in the 2005 NHL draft.

Cheveldayoff called him “one of the best young goaltenders in the game right now.”

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Jets backup Chris Mason is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. But he says he wants back with the team.

Winnipeg also acquired the rights to Toronto’s Jonas Gustavsson over the weekend at the NHL draft in a move that was seen as giving the team some leverage on its existing two goalies. The Gustavsson deal was contingent on the Jets signing the Swede.

Winger Evander Kane is also eligible to become a restricted free agent.

Cheveldayoff declined comment on how negotiations were faring with other players. But he said that the Pavelec deal sends a message.

“Certainly the signing shows commitment from the Winnipeg Jets organization, but it also shows commitment from the player that they want to be a part of what’s transpiring here in Winnipeg and in their careers.

“A player only has X amount of years to play. It’s short relative to the rest of their life and when a player makes a commitment like this and a team makes a commitment like this, it’s very significant.”

Pavelec had other offers but he said returning to Winnipeg was always his first choice.

“Everybody knows that I had an offer from the KHL. It’s hardly a secret,” he said. “It was really good money but . . . first thing I was thinking is I want to stay in Winnipeg.”