The Winnipeg Jets have avoided one of two arbitration hearings scheduled for this month by agreeing to terms with pending restricted free agent Neal Pionk on a four-year deal worth US$23.5-million.
The Average Annual Value of US$5.875-million makes Pionk the third-highest paid defenseman on the team, behind Josh Morrissey (US$6.25-million) and Nate Schmidt (US$5.95-million).
According to CapFriendly, the agreement with Pionk – who was scheduled for an arbitration hearing on Friday – leaves the Jets with 22 roster players under contract and in the position of having to tap into US$2.15-million of the nearly US$5.3-million of LTIR available from the contract of Bryan Little. The veteran center has not played since since November 5 of 2019 after being struck on the side of the head by an errant Nikolaj Ehlers slapshot in a game against the New Jersey Devils.
Pionk has turned in a pair of outstanding seasons for the Jets since being acquired in the Jacob Trouba trade with the New York Rangers in late June of 2019. The 26-year-old smooth-skating defenseman — who was born in Omaha, Neb. but raised in Hermantown, Minn. – has scored nine goals and added 68 assists for 77 points in 125 games for Winnipeg.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth product has also contributed 6 assists in 12 career playoff games as a Jet.
With Pionk’s contract situation resolved, the focus for Winnipeg GM, Kevin Cheveldayoff is to find common ground with restricted free agent-forward Andrew Copp ahead of his Aug. 26 arbitration hearing.
Copp and the Jets have gone behind closed doors once before, when an arbitrator awarded the player a two-year deal for US$2.28-million.
The 27-year-old Ann Arbor, Mich. native is one year removed from unrestricted free agency, so what happens over the next two weeks could very well determine whether Andrew Copp returns for a seventh full season in Winnipeg.
Or perhaps Cheveldayoff may consider a sign-and-trade deal to recover some of the draft pick assets that were used to acquire defensemen Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt earlier this summer.
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