Signing Ponikarovsky gives Jets size, scoring

The Jets have signed left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky (left) to a one-year deal worth a reported...

The Jets have signed left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky (left) to a one-year deal worth a reported $1.8 million. (Getty Images/AFP files)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:53 AM ET

The Winnipeg Jets lost two and gained one on the opening day of NHL free agency.

Are they better for it? A little bit, sure. Left-winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, whom the Jets signed for a reported one year at $1.8 million, is an upgrade over Tanner Glass in the forward department, and a backup goalie is a backup goalie.

The troubling part, however, has to be the fact the Jets offered more money or more term — or both, depending on whom you believe — to Glass and No. 2 netminder Chris Mason, who decided to bolt to much greener pastures in Pittsburgh and Nashville, respectively. You don’t have to check the standings to know the Penguins and Predators are closer to winning the Stanley Cup than the Jets.

But you have to start somewhere, and the Jets, who tried and quickly failed to lure top free agent Zach Parise, started with Ponikarovsky, who adds some size, more scoring than Glass and a connection with current Winnipeg forward Nik Antropov. The 32-year-old spent nearly six full seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and four of those were with Antropov. In fact, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff got Antropov to call Ponikarovsky when his decision was down to two teams on Sunday.

“We played for a long time together,” Ponikarovsky said during a conference call Sunday afternoon. “Sometimes we had different centremen. Sometimes Nik was playing centre, and sometimes they would move him to the wing. We played a pretty good amount of hockey together over the years.”

Ponikarovsky, primarily a left-winger, has 135 goals and 179 assists in 636 career games for Toronto, Pittsburgh, L.A., Carolina and New Jersey. The Jets tried to sign him last year, but he opted for the Hurricanes instead. He was dealt to the Devils and got to within two wins of a Stanley Cup. He’s no Parise, but he’s a solid defensive player and brings much experience to a relatively young dressing room that no longer has a father figure in Mason.

“There’s good versatility in his game,” Cheveldayoff said Sunday night. “The run to the Cup (final) and the experiences that he gained, I had a conversation about that experience when we did talk, and he spoke very passionately about that opportunity and how he looked forward to do that in the future.”

There is much more to do, however. Cheveldayoff and his team of managers and scouts were ordering food, and getting right back to work trying to add more talent. There are spots open, as forwards Kyle Wellwood and Tim Stapleton, and defencemen Mark Flood and Randy Jones also became unrestricted free agents on Sunday. The Jets have talked to Wellwood, Stapleton and Flood, but they have told Jones that they will be going in a different direction.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of us, there’s no question about it,” Cheveldayoff said. “We’re looking for opportunities now to fill in the holes that do remain. We’ll look long and hard at some options within from the development side, but we’re going to continue to look at the free agent side as well to see if it’s the right fit.”

Good idea, because while the other Southeast Division teams have gotten better, the Jets have gotten only a little better. And the help isn’t coming from within. Winnipeg needs not only scoring, but a shutdown defenceman would be good and now they need a backup goaltender.

Cheveldayoff is looking at the bright side, which is what you have to do when you missed the playoffs by eight points the year before and the trend is players wanting to play for winners.

“(Losing players) is sometimes when you find the hidden gems,” Cheveldayoff said. “We’ll see what unfolds. Free agency isn’t just July 1. There’s lots of good people, lots of good players, still on the board.”

But will they want to come to Winnipeg?


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