Jets still working on new Andrew Ladd contract

Can the Jets stay focused knowing two of their stars have expiring contracts?

The pressure on Kevin Cheveldayoff will only mount as this season continues.

With his Winnipeg Jets (7-4-1) jumping to a winning start and a months-long playoff battle in hockey’s toughest division ahead, crucial decisions must be made on two of his best players: Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd.

Both are integral to the Jets’ on-ice success and dressing-room culture. Both are unrestricted free agents come July 1, unless extensions are reached prior. Both would be calamitous losses if they walk sans return this summer.

Not unlike the situation in Calgary, finalizing the contract extensions for a couple of Winnipeg’s burgeoning restricted free agents — centre Mark Scheifele and defenceman Jacob Trouba — might take precedence and will certainly complicate the salary-cap dance here.

The good news for Jets fans? Winnipeg currently has more cap space than any other club, according to

Cheveldayoff told Hockey Central at Noon Tuesday that he will not be going public with a blow-by-blow account of negotiations with his two veterans, and he declined to say the sides were close to a deal.

“We continue to work on it. We’ve got good dialogue with their group, and we’ll continue to work on things,” Cheveldayoff said.

Watch: Kevin Cheveldayoff talks Byfuglien, Ladd, Ehlers, Central Division

Ladd, who turns 30 next month, is off to a solid start to his contract year, putting up eight points through 12 games skating on the first line.

Cheveldayoff was less than one month on the job in 2011 when he signed Ladd to a five-year, $22-million contract.

“At that point in time, it was like, ‘Whoa. Five years [is a long time]. Whew.’ It went by in a blink of an eye,” the GM said.

In 2014-15, the two-time Stanley Cup winner raised his stock by scoring a career-high 62 points, leading the Jets into the post-season, and earning a nomination for the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

Now Ladd is one of five NHL captains still on target to hit the 2016 open market. (Calgary beat the rush by extending its captain, Mark Giordano, in the summer.)

Does having a captain playing with an up-in-the-air future concern the GM?

“If it was a unique phenomenon to the Winnipeg Jets, there would be a little nervousness,” Cheveldayoff said. “When you have professionals like Ladd and Buff, they just go play and let everyone else [agents] do the work.”

According to a Winnipeg Sun report in October, Ladd was unsure if he would encourage his agent, J.P. Barry, to negotiate in-season or wait until spring.

“Whatever is going to allow me to concentrate on hockey and is best for the team is the way I’m gonna go. I’ll decide that myself,” Ladd said at the time.

“For me, after this point I’m probably not going to answer any more questions about it. We don’t need that distraction in here so we’ll just leave that where it is.”

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