WINNIPEG - It would have been natural for Adam Lowry to at least wait to see what was out there on the open market.
Months away from reaching unrestricted free agency for the first time in his NHL career, Lowry had earned the right to be wooed by the 31 other teams in the NHL, with the Seattle Kraken set to begin play in the fall of 2021.
The temptation would have been palpable, with Lowry nearing the end of a three-year deal that carried an average annual value of $2.917 million.
At 28 years of age and with 452 NHL games under his belt, there aren’t many opportunities to try and cash in.
Frequent linemate Brandon Tanev left the Jets in the summer of 2019, inking a six-year deal worth $21 million ($3.5 million) with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Could there have been similar spoils on the horizon had Lowry chosen to go down that path instead of staying put?
There’s little doubt Lowry ran the risk of leaving some money on the table had there been a bidding war for his services, but he also secured some stability at a time when hockey’s middle class of wage earners is in grave danger of feeling the pinch this summer - and most likely beyond.
Ultimately, Lowry came to the conclusion he didn’t need to find out if the grass might actually be greener somewhere else.
As exhilarating as it might be to see how you might fit in a new organization, Lowry knows what to expect and exactly where he slots in with the Jets and what’s expected of him.
Lowry also knows how much he is valued and appreciated by the Jets and it’s important not to underestimate what that is worth to a player.
By agreeing to a five-year contract extension that carries an AAV of $3.25 million, Lowry bypassed that opportunity to remain with the organization that chose him in the third round (67th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft.
“Starting here, being drafted here, it’s one of those things if you have the opportunity to play your whole career with one organization, you want to jump at that opportunity,” said Lowry. “The first chance to go to unrestricted free agency can sometimes be enticing, but knowing the coaching staff here, knowing what the organization’s like, it’s such a hard opportunity to pass up, being able to sign this extension. I know my role in this organization, I love my teammates, I love playing for this team. I’m thrilled I got it done.”
The contract is similar (with a slightly higher AAV) than the one signed by Philadelphia Flyers 2012 first-rounder Scott Laughton (five years, $15 million) earlier this week.
Lowry is beloved by Jets head coach Paul Maurice, who often emboldens his line with the opportunity to go head-to-head with the most gifted offensive players on the opposition.
That includes matchups with the likes of Auston Matthews and John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers, who will serve as the opponent for the Jets on Saturday (with a revised puck drop of 6:15 p.m. CT) to open a six-game homestand.
It’s a role Lowry relishes, along with his spot alongside Andrew Copp on the Jets’ top penalty-killing unit.
Because of the decisions that lie ahead for the expansion draft, there were suggestions the Jets should just agree to a handshake deal before making things official - which would allow the organization to protect another forward from Seattle.
But there was more to be gained by the Jets than by Lowry in that scenario.
Besides, it wasn’t worth the risk of potentially seeing Lowry walk out the door as a free agent.
That’s why the deal got done when it did.
“It happened very fairly quickly,” said Lowry. “I talked to (Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff) and he mentioned that generally Winnipeg doesn’t do a lot of extensions mid-season. They generally wait for the start of the season or the end of the season to get it done.
“But I think it was important we both wanted to get a deal done, we both wanted to reach a deal, and both sides made that known. I’m happy it didn’t take too long and we were able to come to terms that I think we’re both happy with. It was one of those things that it’s nice to have out of the way, it’s nice to know where I’ll be.”
Lowry becomes the latest in a long line of core pieces that has been willing to commit long-term to the Jets, joining the likes of captain Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey and Connor Hellebuyck.
“It shows a commitment to winning and it shows a commitment that these guys have and the belief they have in the group around us,” said Lowry. “You look at the makeup of our team, we’ve got a Vezina-calibre goalie, he gives you a chance to win every night. We have some elite, elite scorers and we have some good pieces on the back end, and a lot of young players that are coming up that are going to have positive contributions - a good mix of veterans and young guys. Those guys committing long term shows their belief in what we have, what we’ve been building, and what we’re trying to accomplish here.
“Hopefully I can live up to my end of the bargain and provide solid value for us. You look at the makeup of our team, I believe we're close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup and I'm really looking forward to that.”
Lowry is in the midst of an impressive bounce-back season.
His offensive numbers (eight goals, 20 points in 44 games) are up after enduring an injury-riddled campaign and what you won’t find in the traditional stats sheet is Lowry’s continued emergence as part of the Jets leadership group.
Although he doesn’t wear a letter, he’s a well-respected voice and would certainly be in the mix to be given one in future seasons.
By locking up Lowry, the Jets continue their commitment to having incredible depth down the middle.
Going into next season, the Jets figure to have Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Lowry handling the top-three spots on the depth chart, with prospect David Gustafsson likely ready to move into the fourth-line role.
There aren’t many teams in the NHL with that combination of size and skill at the centre position.
It’s the type of group that can create some major headaches when it comes to the matchup game and Lowry is the type of player whose style is well-suited for playoff hockey, when the intensity rises and things can get more physical.
Lowry leads the Jets with 132 hits and is known around the league as someone who can make life difficult for the guy he’s lined up against.
As for the impact on the roster moving forward, the Jets have just over $38.5 million invested in nine forwards for next season (not including Bryan Little, who remains on long-term injury reserve with a cap hit of $5.291 million).
In a flat-cap world, a significant raise is coming for Copp up front and Neal Pionk on the back end, with decisions still to come for pending unrestricted free agents like forwards Paul Stastny and Mathieu Perreault and defencemen Derek Forbort and Tucker Poolman.
The Jets won’t be able to keep all of those players, plus they’re going to lose a contributing player or future asset (or prospect) to the Kraken.
But by locking up Lowry, the Jets took another important step in the process of ensuring their window to win can remain open for multiple years.