Winnipeg Jets Have Effective Start to Free Agency 2012
NHL free agency in 2012 is now almost a week old and some pretty significant signings have been made. The biggest impact was made when the Minnesota Wild acquired both the most coveted defenseman and forward available in Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Big enough moves to shift the balance of power within the Northwest Division, and the Western Conference, if not make the Wild a Stanley Cup contender.
There have been other big moves like Calgary inking Dennis Wideman for 5 years and Tampa Bay luring Mart Carle from Philadelphia with a 6-year $33 million offer.
Many teams re-signed meaningful free agents like Montreal and their still-young, franchise goalie, Carey Price and New Jersey who were able to bring back defenseman Bryce Salvador and the seemingly ageless Martin Brodeur.
While the Winnipeg Jets didn’t sign anyone you’d call a franchise or impact player, they have been active and smart enough to make moves that should make a tangible improvement to the team.
The first was to re sign Winnipeg native Derek Meech, a still promising veteran whose playing time was limited due to injury last year.
The Jets made several more effectual moves afterward. The first was signing former Maple Leaf, and more recently, New Jersey Devil, Alexei Ponikarovsky. The big left-winger should add some diversity to the forward lines, since he’s good on the fore check, does kill penalties and occasionally play on the power play. The 6’4”, 226-lb. Ukrainian also plays a physical game and will chip in on the offensive end as well. Last year he scored 14 goals and added 19 assists with Carolina and New Jersey. He has career bests of 23 and 38 for 61 points with Toronto in 2008-2009. Ponikarovsky signed for 1-year at $1.8 million.
The Jets biggest move was luring Olli Jokinen from the Calgary Flames, signing him to a 2-year, $9 million contract. Two years ago Calgary was criticized , even laughed at, when they signed Jokinen, after they had already traded him away. It was seen as a do-nothing act, made out of desperation. Jokinen replied with two solid seasons in Calgary, 2011-12 being his best in several years. Not only did he make a significant offensive contribution (23 goals, 38 assists for 61 points), but he’s also matured and broadened his game to become more effective at both ends. He’s also developed as a leader, which should help the relatively young team he’s joining.
Winnipeg finished off the past week by signing veteran Al Montoya to take the place of Chris Mason, who left for Nashville, as their backup goalie. Starter Ondrej Pavelec was locked up in June. Montoya, who was drafted 6th overall by the Islanders in 2004, has never quite lived up to expectations, but does have decent career numbers and will hopefully be a good veteran backup, at least until some of their younger prospects are ready.
None of the players they’ve brought in so far (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff insists they’re not done yet), are going to light up the league but they should contribute enough to the team to make the Jets appreciably better the coming season.