WINNIPEG - Last year it took Kyle Wellwood until September to land an NHL contract, and when he did it wasn’t exactly lucrative.
A career-high 47 points later, and the 29-year-old has more than doubled his salary, from $700,000 last season to $1.6 million on a new, one-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets.
Wellwood, who became an unrestricted free agent July 1, hopes it’s just the beginning.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work and my family’s globe trotted a bit just trying to get my career back on track,” Wellwood said during a media conference call, Friday. “I’m going to finally have a summer here where I’ll be able to prepare like you’re supposed to for a hockey season and not having any injuries is great.
“I hope to get back to where I was real early in my career... and score at a better pace than I did last year.”
His seventh year in the NHL saw Wellwood post 18 goals, which ranked fourth on the Jets. His 29 assists ranked third.
“Last year, let’s face it, we got a bargain,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “When you put him with different lines they ignite. Because of his hockey sense he can play with a lot of different players.”
Let’s face it, Wellwood’s career, at least the NHL part, looked to be wound down last summer.
Two seasons in Vancouver saw his goal total drop from 18 to 14, his point production hovering in the mid-20 range.
There was so little demand for his services, the slight (5-foot-10, 180-pound) Windsor, Ont., native began the 2010-11 season in Russia’s KHL.
That didn’t exactly go as planned: five goals, eight points, in 25 games.
Returning to North America, Wellwood signed with the San Jose Sharks for the second half of the season, managing five goals, 13 points, in 35 games, plus seven points in 18 playoff games.
Again, a summer of waiting ensued, but this time his destination was Winnipeg, where you could say he rejuvenated his career.
Now he’s looking forward to the encore.
“It’s really exciting for me and my family to have a deal here in July,” Wellwood said. “And know that we’re going into a situation that we know and that we had some success in.”
Rumours had Wellwood mulling over offers to play in Switzerland. But after that short-lived stint in Russia, he wasn’t giving Europe serious consideration.
“It was more just finding a term or number that fit best for both the club and me,” he said. “There’s going to be all kinds of rumours because I’ve moved to Europe before. It wasn’t really an option. I was waiting around for the NHL. It wasn’t anything serious.”
Wellwood said he wasn’t close to leaving the Jets, and you’d think he would have had an option or two this time.
“Obviously with Kyle having a career year... we needed to kind of find where the marketplace would be,” Cheveldayoff said.
Apparently, $1.6 million is it.
Wellwood says he likes the direction the Jets are going, with the signing of free agents Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky, the latter an old teammate in Toronto.
Cheveldayoff says he’s not necessarily finished, yet. But he’s already suggesting head coach Claude Noel has a better roster than he did in Year 1.
“With the additions we have up front already this year, it should provide for tremendous amount more options for Claude,” Cheveldayoff said. “There may be some players that fit from niche positions. But there are also maybe some different opportunities for trades as the summer progresses. I don’t think you ever sit back put your feet up and say I’m done.”
And talks with Evander Kane, well, the usual update, there.
As does Wellwood’s career.
Which a betting man might not have gambled on 12 months ago.