By Carter Brooks
Photos by James Carey Lauder, Jonathan Kozub, Jeff Miller and Rusty Barton
With Winnipeg's 2017-18 regular season and three-round postseason complete, the Jets held their final media availability of the season Tuesday morning at Bell MTS Place for locker cleanout.
Most players were in attendance, with captain Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Paul Stastny, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Connor Hellebuyck highlighting the crew of speakers.
Although the majority of the players showed up cleanly shaven, Patrik Laine still sported his season-long beard. But when asked if it were coming off, he made it clear that plans have already been made for the removal of the facial hair.
Laine has a 2:00 P.M. appointment on Friday in Finland for a haircut and a shave - something he smirked about when informing reporters.
Throughout the morning, common themes of "not quite getting the job done", "coming up a few games short", and the love and appreciation for an "extremely supportive city" made their rounds, from player to player, answer to answer on Tuesday.
Wheeler spoke at length on the strides the Jets made in the 2017-18 season.
“The day in and day out is what makes a good team, a great hockey team," he said. "We learned how to do that. We learned how to practice each day with the intention and goal of getting better every day.”
Wheeler currently has one season left on his six-year, $33 million deal. But he admitted that he hasn't given much thought on a contract extension.
Jacob Trouba on the other hand - a restricted free agent on July 1st - certainly has had many thoughts about his current contract situation. As many can remember, it wasn't that long ago when Trouba had demanded a trade out of town as he felt he wasn't getting the icetime that he deserved. After no such trade came into fruition, the blueliner reluctantly signed a two-year bridge deal to remain in Winnipeg.
“I've been down that road once - the quicker the better,” Trouba reflected. “I haven’t put a whole ton of thought into it yet. I’m sure in the next week or two or couple of days I’ll meet with my agent and we will go over stuff. We’ll see where it goes from there. Talk to Chevy, and I’m sure something will be worked out."
General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff also emphasized how important of a time it is for Winnipeg, but also stressed his belief that this group of players certainly could have won the Cup this past season - knowing it is exceptionally possible in the 2018-19 season.
"My hope is that next year we don't have to have exit meetings," Chevy said bluntly mid-exit meeting.
Although many players remain under contract for the upcoming season, there are a handful of key signings yet to be made. With the salary cap expected to be within the $79-82 million range for the 2018-19 season, the Jets are expected to have a maximum of roughly $22 million to spend on contracts.
With young, budding star defencemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey the largest of Cheveldayoff's concerns, there are some other significant names that remain without deals.
Ultimate trade-deadline acquisition Paul Stastny will see his contract run out on July first, as will Connor Hellebucyk, Joe Morrow, Tucker Poolman, Joel Armia, Adam Lowry, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev.
Other players who may not be pursuable via a re-negotiated contract are Shawn Matthias, Matt Hendricks, Marko Dano, Michael Hutchinson and Toby Enstrom.
Enstrom - who you may remember made the sacrifice to waive his no-trade clause in the 2017 expansion draft for the sake of the team - was sat, alongside Ben Chiarot, as a healthy scratch for the Jets' final game of the postseason, in favour of Joe Morrow and Dmitry Kulikov.
He expressed his displeasure with that decision by Head Coach Paul Maurice, and has since taken off for Sweden.
Nik Ehlers revealed that he had been bedridden for two days during the Western Conference Semifinals - thus contributing to the fact he was scratched with what his coach once again called a bout of malaise.
Laine provided quite possibly the quote of the day, essentially re-stating his claim that 'Winnipeg is good', and emphasizing his hope to play out his NHL career in the city which he now calls 'home'.
“Ya - If that’s something that the team wants," Laine said bluntly when asked if he'd sign a long-term deal with the Jets. "I love this place. I want to be here as long as they want me. This place feels like home to me; so why not. If they want it then we gotta negotiate”.
When asked about next season, it was an even easier answer for the 44-goal man.
“I want to make the Stanley Cup Final and I want to win the Cup.”