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May 6, 2016

Blog: Looking Back on Free Agency

A lot has changed since I last wrote, and we definitely believe for the better. Free agency week was a busy one, with almost every player GM Kyle Walters had pegged agreeing to terms. It’s an intense 12 hours or so, being hunkered down in Kyle’s office while everyone works their phones in pursuit of multiple players. Some don’t take a long time to make a decision at all, some want to speak with the Head Coach before making their call, and some just wait out the process. An almost unanimous determining factor when talking one-on-one with our new acquisitions was a desire to play for Coach Mike O’Shea. This is sometimes talked about, but it really bears mentioning just how important that is. Andrew Harris, Ryan Smith, Jeff Keeping and Justin Medlock all made mention on multiple occasions, both privately and publicly, that Mike was a major factor in deciding to come to Winnipeg. To be honest, a few of those guys quite possibly would have gone elsewhere had it not been for him.

“An almost unanimous determining factor when talking one-on-one with our new acquisitions was a desire to play for Coach Mike O’Shea.”

The Euclid Cummings signing stands out from the flurry of activity that day. A guy who had been talked about for a while, but someone who we didn’t hear back from well into the afternoon. Rightfully so, he was taking in all offers, gathering information (haven’t had a chance to meet him, but he seems like a very bright guy), and trying to make the best decision possible. It was about 3:00 p.m. when Stanley Bryant sent me a text, “Are we done for today?”. I replied we were waiting to hear on Euclid Cummings, to which he replied “Jace knows him.” Sometimes, this is all it takes, one push from another teammate. I relayed the information to Kyle, who immediately requested that we ask Jace to reach out to Euclid. They know each other from their time in Tampa with the Buccaneers. It didn’t sound like they had talked in a while, but I sent Jace Euclid’s number, and a short time later Jace confirmed they had touched base. An hour or so later, Euclid’s agent called Kyle, and confirmed Euclid was coming to Winnipeg. I asked Euclid the other day if Jace’s assurance of our franchise is what sealed it. “It definitely helped make my decision. I had talked to a couple of former players as well, and all of them had nothing but great things to say about the organization.”

The excitement around the organization after free agency has definitely had a positive impact on ticket sales, as both renewals and new season tickets have seen a jump in the past two weeks. Great to see.

 

ryan smith-12

 

The day after signing, Ryan Smith drove up for the day from his home in Fargo. He arrived at the stadium just before noon, an hour prior to his scheduled media conference. We showed him around the facility and ended the tour outside the door of the Head Coach’s office. Ryan is Mike’s kind of player – hard-nosed, tough, and willing to do whatever it is going to take to win. I knew Mike would immediately take a liking to him. The two met for half an hour, had some lunch, then Ryan met the Winnipeg media in the Press Room down the hall. He’s a quieter guy, but seems very focused and a real pro. He was grinning through his entire press conference, and then through two more interviews after that. We offered to have him stay the night at a downtown hotel, but he politely told us he would drive back to Fargo. After all, he had a workout scheduled the next morning.

 

Andrew Harris0

 

The next day, Winnipeg-born Andrew Harris flew in from Vancouver. I could sense the excitement in his voice from the second I called him on free agency day. He landed in Winnipeg around 3pm and had a busy few days planned. Scott Brown – the Winnipeg Jets’ Senior Director of Corporate Communications – had extended an offer for Andrew to come to the game that night, and the TSN broadcast had an interview lined up with him midway through the first period. He tossed on his #33 Byfuglien jersey (the same number Andrew will wear as a Bomber), and took his mom to her first ever Jets game. He posed for pictures, signed multiple autographs, gave the cheering crowd a wave when welcomed on the scoreboard, and drew the 50/50 number later in the night. Andrew and I were acquaintances before all of this, but the one thing I quickly got from him is that he is very excited to be a Bomber. A three-hour photo shoot Friday morning? Sure. An appearance later on Friday afternoon? Absolutely. A two-hour autograph signing Saturday to meet some fans? Would love to. The line-up for autographs that morning snaked around the store and out the doors, and he seemed as happy to meet the fans as they were to meet him.