By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele hope their new contracts show their teammates and fans how much they believe in the Winnipeg Jets.
The NHL club announced identical seven-year extensions Monday for the starting goaltender and top centre, but the pair signed the contracts at a press conference Tuesday.
Each deal is worth US$59.5 million with an average annual value of $8.5 million. Both take effect in 2024-25.
“If the guys around us know that we care and we truly believe in this city and the guys around us, that helps them figure out where this team is going and that’s one direction and that’s to win the (Stanley) Cup,” Hellebuyck said.
He was also glad to be linked with Scheifele.
“I think we’re going to really set a really good model for the next generation coming up,” Hellebuyck said. “Hopefully, the fans can see that we care about being here and we love being here and we’re together on this.”
Hellebuyck, 30, was drafted by Winnipeg in 2012 (fifth round, 130th overall). The Michigan product leads all franchise goalies in games played (445), wins (238) and shutouts (32). He won the Vézina Trophy in 2020 and was a finalist in 2018 and 2023.
Scheifele was the franchise’s first pick (seventh overall) after it moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011. The 30-year-old Kitchener, Ont., native is coming off a season in which he scored a career-high 42 goals in 81 games. He ranks first in franchise history for playoff goals (19) and game-winning goals (44).
“Our goal is to win and obviously this is a big step and I believe we have such a great team here,” said Scheifele, who’s an alternate captain.
“I have such tremendous friends that are friends for life who are in that locker room. We want to win a Cup in Winnipeg and there’d be nothing more special than doing that.”
The Jets play their season-opener Wednesday in Calgary against the Flames.
Head coach Rick Bowness was glad there won’t be any more talk about the “two world-class athletes” playing on expiring contracts and possibly becoming unrestricted free agents on July 1.
“I think that’s the big message to the whole team, every player, we can win now,” Bowness said. “(There would be) two big voids if they had left. So it’s great to have them and it’s a huge confidence boost for our team that they want to stay.
“Again, they had options. They could have waited (for) July 1 and gone wherever they wanted to go, but they chose Winnipeg and they chose this team. And that’s, you know, it’s a big boost to their teammates because they’re telling their teammates, ‘We’re in this fight with you.’”
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said he was in touch with both players’ agents and was open about what needed to happen to get the deals done.
“I think both individuals would have commanded a lot on the open market,” Cheveldayoff said. “We had a lot of conversations with them. Some of the things brought up with each respective agent was the player’s desire to win. It’s the organization’s desire to win but we are living in a (salary) cap world.
“There probably was some give on their parts as far as those kind of conversations, but that speaks volumes to them.”
Cheveldayoff said he walked by the locker room on Monday when Scheifele and Hellebuyck gave their teammates the news.
“The uniqueness of it was awesome,” Cheveldayoff said. “Where once we got the final yeses from them, they got the opportunity to stand in front of their team in a team meeting and say they were committing to Winnipeg.
“The roar that came out of the dressing room, unfortunately I wasn’t in there, but I was walking by it at the time and the roar that came out of the dressing room, I knew exactly what had happened.”
Jets captain Adam Lowry said it was welcome news.
“We were able to celebrate them a little bit in the room when they told us (Monday) and now we’re really looking forward to getting the season started and those two guys are going to be big driving forces for our team,” he said.
All-star defenceman Josh Morrissey said the news just before the season starts “sends a bolt of energy through the team.”
While players don’t usually give each other contract advice, the alternate captain admitted he did offer his “two cents” to try to make them stay. Morrissey is on an eight-year contract that runs through 2027-28.
“So my pitch is, ‘I want to win here, I’m signed here and please don’t leave,’” Morrissey said with a laugh.
The Jets grabbed the second Western Conference wild-card spot in Game 81 last season, finishing 46-33-3. The Vegas Golden Knights bounced them out of the first round of the playoffs in five games.
The deepest Winnipeg has been in the playoffs was the conference final in 2017-18, but it lost to Vegas. It’s won one playoff series since then, the first round against the Edmonton Oilers in 2021. It was swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the next round.