WINNIPEG — National Hockey League teams doled out nearly $500 million on Day 1 of free agency, mostly to a crop of decent to average players fortunate enough to have their contracts expire on Monday.
Even the Winnipeg Jets, who have never been a main player in the annual cash-feeding frenzy, got into the act, landing 26-year-old centre Mathieu Perreault for three years and
$9 million in total when the Anaheim Ducks had no more room for them on their roster or their cap-accounting sheet.
"It’s a great fit for me," Perreault said in a conference call on Tuesday. "I talked to (Jets coach) Paul Maurice earlier today. They want to change a little bit, they want to put on three lines that can score every night.
"I can bring a lot of speed. Winnipeg has always been a team about speed. It’s a part of my game that I like to use. I’m a smart player, I can produce, I can play a little bit of power-play."
Perreault, a Drummondville, Que., product, had 18 goals and 43 points for the Anaheim Ducks last season. But with the Ducks adding Ryan Kesler and Nate Thompson, both centres. in trades in the last week, Perreault’s spot in their lineup became iffy and the team chose not to make him a qualifying offer.
The move likely means the end to veteran centre Olli Jokinen’s days in Winnipeg.
The Jets also saw two of their unrestricted free agents go elsewhere on opening day. Defenceman Zach Redmond signed with the Colorado Avalanche and backup goalie Al Montoya went to the Florida Panthers.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, however, didn’t commit to goalie Michael Hutchinson — who played the final three games of 2013-14 — as the team’s new backup, at least not yet.
"(Hutchinson) has earned the opportunity to compete for the backup job," he said.
Free agency didn’t end Tuesday. Now the teams — especially the ones that didn’t get in on big signings — start to comb through charts and lists to find help.
The Jets, for instance, are still hopeful they can add a better quality forward, Cheveldayoff said.
"We’d like to get another top-six forward," he said. "That’s something we’re still looking at. Again, are there some options out there? Potentially."
The plight of some teams at or over the $69-million salary cap is likely to come into play. Teams are allowed to be up to 10 per cent over the cap from July 1 until the last day of training camp.
"I don’t know that you hear too many times ‘value’ on Day 1 of free agency," Cheveldayoff said. "There’s always a little bit of, not letdown, but re-assessment of where things are at after Day 1.
"Part of the deep-breath period here that happens after this, I think, all of a sudden some teams might be getting some calls from their CFOs upstairs saying ‘Hey, wait a minute, we like your July 1, but now we’ve got to take a look at where things are at.’
"There’s lots of different things that you still have to factor into your budget or the cap as it comes along here. I expect there are going to be some phone calls. After the free agent period, everyone still wants to fine-tune their team."
While the Jets were not to be found in the rich district, Cheveldayoff said he doesn’t look at July 1 through such a lens.
"I don’t know that it’s a unique thing to Winnipeg," he said. "One thing you have here is tremendous competitive balance among 29 other teams. With the salary cap, even though some teams can find ways to spend greatly over the salary cap with respect to buyouts or structure of contracts and that, there still is that level of competitive balance that’s there."
And it was here, like three other times in his press conference Tuesday, that the GM held up new coach Paul Maurice as an influential, successful coach who is a reason to like the Jets, no matter your vantage point. Cheveldayoff even said Maurice was a big reason pending unrestricted free agent Chris Thorburn returned to the Jets’ fold late Monday with a new three-year contract.
The Jets also announced Monday they had re-signed veteran defenceman Adam Pardy.
» Winnipeg Free Press