WINNIPEG - NHL free agency kicks off on Sunday, but the Jets still have a bit of work to do in their own back yard before taking a peek in everyone else’s.
The Jets have seven notable unrestricted free agents, including recently acquired goaltender Jonas Gustavsson and incumbent backup Chris Mason, that they can lock up before the other 29 teams get a chance to lure them away. They also have key restricted free agent Evander Kane, who led the team last season with 30 goals, to think about.
A quick look at the other notable players the Jets still have exclusive negotiating rights with until Sunday (last year's salary in parenthesis):
— RW Kyle Wellwood (UFA, $700,000): He was an excellent last-minute signing in September, because he went on to tie a career high with 18 goals and set a personal best with 47 points. Bring him back if you can get him at a decent price, but the Jets need to get bigger up front.
— LW Tanner Glass (UFA, $750,000): It was sounding like he was going to return. Then it was sounding like he wasn’t going to return. Stop me if you’ve heard that in professional sports negotiations before. He had one goal in his last 44 games. No need to overspend for him if he can find something better.
— RW Spencer Machacek (RFA, $575,000): The physical forward played great when called up at the end of the season, notching nine points in 11 games down the stretch. If he can keep that up over the entire season, re-open negotiations and pay him a lot of money.
— C Tim Stapleton (UFA, $525,000): The 5-foot-9 speedster had a career year last season and we like his spunk and attitude, but at times he was a liability while playing the point on the power play and he’s just not big enough for a team that needs to get bigger.
— D Mark Flood (UFA, $525,000): Not sure what to make of the P.E.I. native’s situation. The Jets talked all year about how much they liked him and couldn’t send him down to the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, but they never put him in the lineup.
— D Randy Jones (UFA, $1.15 million): He’ll be 31 years old in a month, he’s not exactly fleet of foot, and he was a healthy scratch quite a bit last year. It’s probably safe to say he won’t be back.