Cross another important thing off Kevin Cheveldayoff’s to-do list.
The Winnipeg Jets GM signed team captain Blake Wheeler Monday to a five-year contract extension worth $41.25 million. Wheeler was heading into the final year of his current deal and unrestricted free agency next summer, but the new contract now kicks in at the start of the 2019-20 season.
He’s here for a GOOD TIME and a LONG TIME! ? ⁰
Captain @BiggieFunke signs 5️⃣-year contract extension with your #NHLJets! pic.twitter.com/pIXPpSv7Rf
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) September 4, 2018
Earlier this offseason, Cheveldayoff signed goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy finalist, to a six-year contract extension that averages $6.167 million per season, accepted the arbitration result which gave RFA defenseman Jacob Trouba a one-year $5.5 million contract, created cap space by dealing goaltender Steve Mason and forward Joel Armia to the Montreal Canadiens and opened even more salary cap room by choosing not to re-sign veteran defenseman Toby Enstrom. Last year, the Jets GM signed then-21-year-old winger Nik Ehlers to a seven-year $42 million extension. Also, high-scoring center Mark Scheifele has six years remaining on his current deal.
Who do you think is more excited about the big news? Me or @26blakewheeler. Congrats big man. Can’t wait for another 6 years with you on the right side @nhljets #backdoor #tapins pic.twitter.com/xjGr90PyVN
— mark scheifele (@markscheifele55) September 4, 2018
The signing of Wheeler put a bow on Winnipeg’s offseason, a week ahead of training camp. The 33-year-old comes off a career-year, one in which he led the Jets with 91 points, tied for the league-lead with 68 assists and appeared in his first NHL All Star Game. A Hart Trophy contender all season, Wheeler also was a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award.
“My biggest thing is I didn’t want to have anything talked about during the season,” Wheeler told TSN 1290 in Winnipeg Monday morning. “One way or the other I just wanted to focus on this year. It’s too important of a year. It has the potential to be a big year for our team. I’m happy it worked out this way.”
Wheeler, who appeared in 81 games last season, has played all 82 games in three of the past five years, scoring 20 goals or more in each of those five seasons.
“Our challenge now is going to be is that the external expectations are going to be higher,” Wheeler said in the interview. “We’re going to have to find a way to put those behind us and try and recapture what made us a good team last year.”
Still remaining on Cheveldayoff’s to-do list is to sign superstar winger Patrik Laine to a contract extension, and to try and work out a long-term extension with Trouba, all while retaining some semblance of flexibility under the cap, which wil be no easy trick for the 2018 Western Conference Finalists. Currently, the Jets are roughly $10 million under the cap, according to Cap Friendly, but the Wheeler deal — and subsequent ones for Laine and Trouba — do not count against this year’s cap, but will cut into available cap space starting next season.
In addition, 23-year-old defenseman Josh Morrissey is an unrestricted free agent still without a contract, though Cheveldayoff said on a conference call Monday that he expects a deal to be signed before the start of training camp.