The Summer of the Defenseman continues.
The latest benefactor of this off-season’s booming market for serviceable defenders is Neal Pionk. On Wednesday morning, he agreed to a four-year extension with the Winnipeg Jets that carries an average annual value of $5.875 million.
The deal, which keeps Pionk in a Jets uniform through the 2024-25 season, comes just two days before both sides were set to meet in an arbitration hearing on August 13th.
This is a win for both the team and the player. Pionk has been one of the league’s more pleasant surprises since coming to Winnipeg as part of the Jacob Trouba trade back in 2019.
The 26-year-old has blossomed into the Jets’ top-pairing right-shot defenseman in his two seasons with the team, racking up a career-high 45 points in 71 games in 2019-20 before following up that breakout year with a similarly impressive 2021 featuring 32 points in 54 games. On top of all that, Pionk also logs roughly 22 minutes per night against top competition, drives play at a reasonable clip, and takes a surprisingly low number of penalties given the severity of his minutes and role.
What more can you ask for?
Well, for a Jets team that lacked a stable blueline all of last season, not much. And after making a noted effort to improve their back-end with the additions of Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon this summer, locking up Pionk for the foreseeable future may arguably be their most important move of all. He brings stability. And that’s exactly what they need.
With Pionk’s deal out of the way, Kevin Cheveldayoff can now turn his focus to padding a Jets forward corps that currently features nine players on its NHL roster.
The work is not done in Winnipeg. But this is a good step.