It was late into the evening on Friday, July 26th, but the announcement was made that the Winnipeg Jets had agreed to terms with forward Blake Wheeler on a new six-year, $33.6 million dollar contract.
"For me it was virtually a no-brainer," said Wheeler in a conference call Saturday morning. "I sat down with my agent in April or May and we had the discussion. I looked him in the eyes and said, "This is where I want to be".
"I believe in people like Mark Chipman and Chevy (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff), what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group."
Wheeler, 26, played in 48 games with the Winnipeg Jets last season. In that time, the right-winger recorded 41 points (19G, 22A) and 28 penalty minutes. He led the Jets in goals and ranked second on the club's leaderboard in overall points.
The Robbinsdale, MN native has played in 372 career NHL games between Boston, Atlanta and Winnipeg for 232 career points (93G, 139A) and 228 penalty minutes. He has also appeared in 21 post-season games, all with the Bruins for six points (1G, 5A) and six penalty minutes.
On February 18th, 2011, the Bruins traded Wheeler and Mark Stuart to the Atlanta Thrashers for Boris Valabik and Rich Peverley. That summer, Wheeler was scheduled to go to arbitration when the Winnipeg Jets opened the door to a new opportunity by signing the restricted free agent to a two-year contract on July 18th, 2011. Back then, he didn't hesitate to sign on the dotted line and now with his second contract with this franchise, he begins his new opportunity.
"I felt I had more to give and was given that opportunity in Winnipeg," said Wheeler. "My struggles at the beginning in Winnipeg was a bit of a reflection of pressing too much and trying too hard and putting too much pressure on myself. Now, having that vote of confidence from the franchise, I'm the kind of person who takes that and runs with it. Having faith put on me gives me life and energy to go out there and hopefully reach new heights."
Wheeler was placed on the top line with Bryan Little and captain Andrew Ladd from day one with the Jets, a big step up from playing on the third and fourth lines, in Boston.
"That was a huge vote of confidence right off the bat," said Wheeler. "That added ice-time and that added responsibility was something that I wanted. It gave me a shot of life and something that I definitely needed in my career. I play with two great players and we really compliment each other well, so that's helped me take my game to the next level."