It was in many ways a must sign: Dustin Byfuglien is as popular as any player in Winnipeg, and his specific skill set would be awfully difficult to replace if he jumped ship.
It was also a must sign because the player himself likes it in Winnipeg; he wanted to stay. I'm going to be as polite as I can be here and say that it won't be every player that's going to feel that way about Winnipeg. That's just a reality of life that Winnipeg Jets management has to live with.
So when you know that a player of Byfuglien's ilk actually wants to stay, you make it happen.
"His understanding of the game has always been there," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said over the phone about an hour after the deal was announced on Monday. "His hockey sense is off the charts, his skating, those things are well-documented. But the conversations that we had away from the negotiations themselves -- he wants to win, he wants to be part of what we have going here, his family likes it [in Winnipeg], he's got young kids that are going to be starting school -- all those things factored in."
"I think it underscores what a great family community and a passionate hockey market that we have," Cheveldayoff continued. "He could have easily gone to free agency and played in another market, where maybe there's less scrutiny and less intensity and certainly where you could go and hide. And a lot of people maybe thought that's what he would do. But for him, this was the right decision, and ultimately he was the one who had to make that decision."
So what you had here was a star player who actually didn't want to leave but, at the same time, wanted to get paid market value or close to it. There's nothing wrong with that. You get to use your leverage as an unrestricted free agent just once or twice in your career when you're a star player. And for Byfuglien, this is his last big contract.
That the Jets were able to get reasonable term (five years) while having to pay more than what they originally had hoped in salary ($7.6 million average per season) is what is called a compromise. Byfuglien will be 36 when the new contract expires; that's not too risky.
There was also compromise on the no-trade provision. It's a 100 percent no-move starting immediately and for the first two years of the new deal. Then it shifts into a modified no-trade provision with a list of teams starting in Year 3. So the player gets maximum protection for the next two and a half years, and then the Jets get some flexibility.
The potential ripple effect of the Byfuglien signing has a few layers to it:
For starters, it eases the pressure off the Jets when it comes to Andrew Ladd, the other pending UFA star. If they can't get him re-signed and have to trade him by Feb. 29, nobody is going to criticize them given that they got Byfuglien done.
Several contending teams, including the Los Angeles Kings, had Byfuglien at the top of their trade deadline shopping list, so now they've got to go shopping elsewhere. Whatever they find won't be nearly as good. Byfuglien would have easily been the most sought-after trade deadline rental player, a guy who could have seriously impacted a contending roster.
And finally, what does this mean for defenseman Jacob Trouba? The pending restricted free agent needs a new deal. There were contract talks last summer, but they were shelved, with Trouba and his agent Kurt Overhardt deciding they wanted to wait. I wonder whether the Jets listen a little more attentively to trade offers on Trouba now that they have the security of Byfuglien staying put.
In the end, a very important message was sent by the Jets: Had they been unable to re-sign both Byfuglien and Ladd, it would have painted the picture of a small market that can't play with the big boys.
Re-signing Byfuglien puts at ease the fear of creating that perception. That also counts in the dressing room when other core players will need new deals down the road. It might also be noticed by other players around the league.
So the investment here wasn't only in Byfuglien himself but also in the reputation of a well-built hockey team that needs to keep that squad together moving forward.
Combine those signings with the continued ability of the Jets to draft and develop players and it's an indicator of better things to come, despite this season's regression in the standings.
Which is what Byfuglien also signed off on.
"I believe in what they're trying to do around here," Byfuglien told Winnipeg reporters after the signing was announced. "You can't win a Stanley Cup overnight. It's a process."
As Cheveldayoff added, "When I talked to Buff and we talked about our plans moving forward, he was all-in."