When the Atlanta Thrashers first moved to Winnipeg one of the first pieces of business for new GM Kevin Chevaldayoff was to re-sign his captain Andrew Ladd. Many people wondered if Ladd would want to sign long term with the franchise as Winnipeg is not exactly a prime location for a young 20 something. Ladd ended up signing a five year contract with a AAV of $4.4 million.
"Definitely you know it's there - unrestricted free agency's a big thing for a player," he said. "Looking at the big picture, I was in a great situation with the organization in terms of my role with the team. It never really crossed my mind to go that route."
The next summer high profile free agent Olli Jokinen left Calgary to come to Winnipeg. Winnipeg did not sign him for huge money, his AAV is a reasonable $4.5 million and he chose Winnipeg over other destinations (as a top centre and a free agent there would have been more than one offer). At the time of his signing Chevy had this to say:
"He's very excited about being at the forefront of a group that has young players; that has a chance to continue to grow and get better and he's really looking forward to contributing in that regard."
When Wheeler, Bogosian, and Little re-signed last summer they all talked about wanting to stay in Winnipeg because of the organization supporting them when they were young. Though it can be argued that they are over paid to varying degrees, they all signed contracts that were a minimum five years long. The length of those contracts points to players wanting to stay in Winnipeg, not leave when they get the chance.
Besides the three big contracts that Chevy signed players to this past summer, he also signed Evander Kane to six year contract with a AAV of $5.25 million as a lockout loomed last September. There have been rumours swirling since the Jets returned to Winnipeg that Kane wanted out or that the Jets wanted to move Kane. His contract (again) disproves this.
Finally there is the Prince of the Defence, Tobias Enstrom. He signed a five year contract this past off-season with an AAV of $5.75 million to remain in Winnipeg. He was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this past off-season and decided to forgo that to remain in a city of 700 000. At the time of his signing he said, "I've been on this team for a long time now," said Enstrom in a conference call from his home in Sweden.
"The move to Winnipeg was fun and it feels like we have a good thing going on. I really like playing in front of all the fans in that city and it made me want to stay. I'm really happy I came to agreement with the Winnipeg Jets.I like our defense, I like our goaltending, I like everything about this team. That's one of the reason's I signed. I believe in this team, and I think this year coming up is really important for us."
Again, this does not should like a player who doesn't want to be here.
Why are all these players wanting to re-sign with the Jets or even sign with them as free agents? First of all money talks. They are all handsomely paid by the Jets to play for them. But there is also the fact that many of the players have only known one organization. In the case of Ladd, he was given an opportunity with them that he did not have in Chicago; to be a leader and a scorer. Players are human and things like this matter,
The weather was one major thing that is pointed to when players signing in Winnipeg are concerned. Hockey players are not in town for the entire winter and some of visiting players even walk to the MTS Centre to enjoy the hockey weather. This is what Sidney Crosby did in January of 2013 because he missed Canadian winters.
The last thing that is often brought up is there is nothing for a young 20-something millionaire to do in Winnipeg. There are things to do here but because of the cold climate there isn't a lot to do. Alexander Burmistrov used to go play hockey outside on his time off. He would go to practice his shots and play shinny with kids. He made the most of the winters here.
Winnipeg can be whatever you want it to be. Many of the current Jets see it as a city that holds a passionate fan base. It is cold and it can be boring, but there is stability here for them. They are in a familiar organization, around people that they have played with for years.
Jeff O'Neill got attacked on Twitter for what he said because he was uninformed. He did not realize that players have signed long-term contracts to stay in Winnipeg. For all the faults of the Jets, they have loyal players who have moved with them from Atlanta and committed to staying with them in the 'Peg. Winnipeg is a city that struggles for an identity. We make fun of ourselves, we have discussions about windchill and plugging in our cars, but we are proud of what we are, which is a scrappy city that got our hockey team back.
The players like that, they like the passion that the fans show. They have made Winnipeg their winter home. They may not stay here all year, but they stay in the coldest months. We may not do a lot right here in Winnipeg and the Jets have many problems both on and off the ice, which is frequently addressed at this blog, but player acquisition and retention is not one of those problems. From bargain bin players like Kyle Wellwood to potential UFAs like Toby Enstrom to UFA signee Olli Jokinen, the Winnipeg Jets have been able to not only sign players but retain key players.
If you are going to go on national television and claim something that is factually incorrect at least have the decency to admit to it and apologize for it. Jeff O'Neill has done the opposite and instead decided to stand behind his comments, calling someone a loser for pointing out his unprofessionalism. Winnipeg attacked O'Neill because he was wrong and called out our city. O'Neill called out Winnipeg for correcting him.
The lesson from all of this is best said by Thumper "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all." Criticizing a team is part of O'Neill's job. Making up lies about a team is not and calling a fan a loser for correcting him is not and that is what O'Neill did Tuesday night.