Shawn Matthias will not be the highest paid player out of the madness on July 1. He will not likely lead all UFAs in scoring next year. Yet he may go down as one of the more prudent signings of the day.
While their brethren dove into the UFA pool head first on Friday, some without checking to see how deep the water was, the Jets dipped a toe in and cautiously waded a few feet deep. No, they won’t make the biggest splash in the pool, but they also avoided the headache that comes from hitting the bottom of the shallow end.
Matthias was the first of three UFA signings by the Jets on the day, the other two being local boy Quinton Howden and left-handed defenseman Brian Strait. Of the three, Matthias is expected to have the biggest impact on the lineup, especially since both Howden and Strait signed for near-minimum value.
Pundits are quick to point out that most free agents do not have Winnipeg at the top of their desired destinations list, but Matthias made it clear he’s eager to be a Jet. In fact, he seemed downright thrilled to be coming back to Canada to play in front of the raucous MTS Centre crowd.
Matthias isn’t going to set the scoresheet on fire, with his 28 points last season being a career high and his best goal total being 18 in 2014-15 with Vancouver. What he will do is shore up a Jets bottom six that was sorely lacking depth at times last year, and lend aid to a penalty kill that was overworked last year and promises to be no less so this season.
If Jets fans wanted to see their team sign a goal scorer they were likely doomed to disappointment. They’re banking on improved goal scoring is coming (hopefully) from newly drafted Patrik Laine and newly signed Kyle Connor. Matthias’s presence will make the Jets bigger, deeper, and harder to play against, if not much more offensively prolific.
A Crowded Bottom Six
All of a sudden Winnipeg’s bottom six forwards are an absolute fire drill headed into training camp. There are more bodies who deserve ice time than the Jets have ice time to give, which is a great problem to have, but a vexing problem no less. Matthias, and to a lesser extent Howden, add to this issue (though Howden’s contract is two-way, so he may well see AHL time).
It’s relieving, however, to see Kevin Cheveldayoff not sit on his laurels by just letting the young guns mature into spots free of any challenge. There’s going to be battle upon battle in training camp this year, and it’s going to bring out the best in certain players, which is exactly what the Jets need.
As for Matthias himself, he may not be an offensive dynamo, but he seems to be more offensively inclined than most other bottom six forwards. And it’s not as if he’s completely devoid of finishing touch.
Matthias brings speed, penalty killing skill, and more ability to put the puck in the net than you’d expect to get for the $2.125 million the Jets paid per season to get him. His contract is also only for two years, so there’s very little risk.
Matthias has said all the right things, talking about how he believes he can win in Winnipeg and how excited he is to be here. It’s an attitude that’s been sorely lacking in Winnipeg, and for that alone Jets fans can be glad to see his name on the roster. When the season starts, he’ll give them a few other reasons to be glad.