Monday, 8 February 2016

Big Money Buff

I'll admit that it's hard being a Jets fan sometimes. Granted, they aren't my first team when it comes to my fandom, but they are the local squad so there is a vested interest there. Having two key free agents from the core of the team unsigned to new deals with the trade deadline and free agency approaching makes fans a little nervous. However, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff stole all the thunder in the sports world today when it was announced that fan favorite Dustin Byfuglien was off the market after agreeing to a five-year, $38 million deal with the Jets. While the big man was putting his signature on a new deal, let it be known that most of Winnipeg breathed a huge sigh of relief.

It wasn't an easy negotiation from reports as both sides needed to give a little to find a deal with which both sides could be happy. Dustin Byfuglien wanted a longer term to secure his spot on the team until nearing retirement while the Jets wanted a shorter term at a lower dollar figure. In the end, Byfuglien and the Jets agreed to a five-year deal that was higher than the price the Jets may have wanted to pay, but they needed to buy that shorter term with a higher average salary.

In the end, both sides are happy, and the fans wil get to enjoy the booming slapshot and big hits for the next five seasons.

"I've been here five years now and where we started and where we're at now, I don't feel as an organization or as a group that we're far off," Byfuglien told reporters in St. Louis as the Jets prepare to face the Blues on Tuesday. "We've got a good group of guys here that I've been with for a while now. Just watching the process of everyone coming up and who's coming in the organization now and what we've got coming, I believe in what they're trying to do around here. You can't win a Stanley Cup overnight. It's a process, and I feel they're in the right state, so I thought I'd run with them.

"It never really crossed my mind going anywhere. I'm excited to be a Jet."

That's a powerful message to send to the fans, and it might be time to look at Byfuglien as a lettered leader on this Jets team. He certainly leads on the ice and can change games with his skill and physicality, but the word out of the coach's mouth is that he's respected and liked by everyone in the Jets' dressing room.

"His personality is probably bigger than he is in that room," said head coach Paul Maurice. "Dustin's a guy who is connected to everybody in the room — kind of like a man of the people. He can go to the All-Star Game and hang out with the best of those guys and then go have dinner with the fourth line guys. He's a real regular guy and because of that he has a connection to everybody in the room."

Let's not forget that it was Dustin Byfuglien who tossed the infamous track suit of a former Jet into the showers. While others silently looked the other way when Evander Kane was up to his antics, it was Dustin Byfuglien who sent a very clear message to the immature Kane by drowning his clothes in the shower. Dustin Byfuglien is a leader on this team.

He's also one of the few players in the league that can be effective on his own blue line or playing in front of the net. San Jose's Brent Burns might be the only other player in the NHL right now with the same skill set, but that puts Byfuglien in a very elite group of players where he can load up the cannon from the back-end or show the soft hands of a sniper. These players are rare to come by, and they aren't made available by the teams that have them. Winnipeg can now claim that same fact.

While some will question the amount of money given to Byfuglien, you can't deny that 29 other NHL teams wouldn't have had that contract ready in seconds if he became a free agent. The fact that the Jets won't have to play against him should be a huge relief for the players in the room, but the Jets have restored some of the faith that seemed to be eroding in its fanbase with this signing.

You can only hope that Cheveldayoff has more up his sleeve when it comes to locking up stars of this team and fan favorites. But it was a helluva start today.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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