Dustin Byfuglien

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Jets ‘anxious’ to keep Little, who can sign extension this summer

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Bryan Little has been a consistent offensive producer since the Jets moved to Winnipeg six years ago.

And it now sounds like the organization really wants to keep him around.

Little, who had 47 points in 59 games this season — the highest points-per-game average (0.80) of his career — is heading into the last of a five-year, $23.5 million deal with a $4.7M average annual cap hit.

The 29-year-old can sign an extension on July 1, and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told Sportsnet the Jets are “anxious” to keep him in the fold.

There are a few facets worth considering.

The first is that Winnipeg’s never been a top destination for UFAs, so it’s important to retain players. That certainly was Cheveldayoff’s strategy with No. 1 center Mark Scheifele, who scored a massive eight-year, $49 million extension coming out of his entry-level contract.

That strategy can be risky, though.

Back in 2012, Winnipeg locked in Tobias Enstrom with a five-year, $28.75 million deal. At $5.75 million per, it’s since become something of an albatross. Enstrom has struggled with consistency and health, missing a combined 54 games over the last three seasons, and now faces questions about waiving his no-movement clause so he can be exposed at the expansion draft.

Cheveldayoff has, however, shown some flexibility when it comes to how he retains his players. Like with Dustin Byfuglien‘s deal. Byfuglien sacrificed term — signing a five-year pact rather than the max eight — but, by doing so, netted himself a contract that pays $7.6M annually.

Perhaps this could be the play with Little. Though he’s been a consistent producer and is now one of the club’s veteran leaders, he’s also had health issues over the last two years and turns 30 in November.

A shorter-term contract is a viable solution, but one that could be pricey for the Jets.

Karlsson’s ironman streak comes to an end as Sens visit Wild

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For the first time since the lockout-shortened season, the Ottawa Senators will not have star defenseman Erik Karlsson in their lineup.

With the Sens four points back of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead, Karlsson will not play tonight versus the Minnesota Wild, which ends his ironman streak at 324 consecutive games played.

Karlsson trails Brent Burns by only five points for the lead in that category among NHL defenseman. He also logs close to 27 minutes of ice time per game. Only three blue liners in the entire league — Dustin Byfuglien, Drew Doughty and Ryan Suter — play more on average per game.

The injury reportedly occurred when Karlsson blocked a shot against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. Trade deadline acquisition Jyrki Jokipakka is expected to make his debut for Ottawa, per the Citizen.

“If we miss him for a game or two, we’re not sure what’s going to happen,” forward Mark Stone told the Ottawa Citizen. “He’s the best defenceman in the world. If you take him out of your lineup, it’s obviously a huge blow.”

Pens dress enforcer Sestito for grudge match versus Jets

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There were plenty of fireworks the last time Pittsburgh and Winnipeg played.

Tonight, when they meet for the first time since, there could be plenty more.

Pittsburgh will insert tough guy Tom Sestito into the lineup, after recalling him from the minors. The move is (presumably) in response to everything that occurred on Feb. 16, including Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Jets captain Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien’s hit on Pens d-man Justin Schultz, which left the latter with a concussion.

Oh yeah, Olli Maatta also had to exit the game following a big open ice hit from Adam Lowry (watch it here).

Chris Thorburn, Winnipeg’s resident pugilist, told the Winnipeg Sun Sestito’s inclusion “catches your attention a little bit,” adding “I’d probably be the one to address that.”

The Jets, of course, are desperately fighting to remain in playoff contention, so they’re insisting the focus is solely on securing two points. But at the same time, they were visibly frustrated after Malkin escaped punishment for the Wheeler hit, only for Jacob Trouba to get suspended days later for his hit on Mark Stone.

Then, after the Trouba-Stone incident, Winnipeg d-man Ben Chiarot voiced his displeasure with a high hit from Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, which also went unpunished.

“Might not be this year, might not be next year,” Chiarot warned. “But there will be a time where the shoe will be on the other foot.”

It’s probably worth noting the game on the 16th was in Pittsburgh.

Tonight’s rematch is in Winnipeg.

Video: Laine hits 30 goals vs. Matthews and Leafs; Byfuglien battles Martin

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Patrik Laine might rub some people the wrong way with his matter-of-fact brand of swagger, but the Winnipeg Jets rookie can back up that talk.

Just look at how he performs against fellow Calder Trophy hopeful Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Back in October, Laine stole the show with a hat trick. He has a chance to do that again, but either way, with two goals in as many periods, Laine hit the 30-goal mark as a rookie. In February.

His 29th goal came less than five minutes into the game:

He then hit the big 3-0 in the dying seconds of the middle frame, though that was far from the only noteworthy moment of the clip above this post’s headline.

As you can see, there were bodies being thrown around, culminating with a brief bout between Dustin Byfuglien and Matt Martin. The earth may or may not have shook from such an altercation. It wasn’t the only example of violence between the two teams tonight.

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It’s been a nice milestone night for young Jets scorers, as Nikolaj Ehlers also scored his 20th goal of 2016-17.

That 30th goal came less than 30 seconds after Leo Komarov‘s second goal of the contest, putting Winnipeg up 4-3 heading into the third period. For all we know, the Jets might need even more from Laine tonight.

Jets top Canadiens in Julien’s debut

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The second Claude Julien era in Montreal did not get off to a promising start on Saturday afternoon when the Canadiens dropped a 3-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets.

It was a sluggish performance at times and that probably should have been expected given the circumstances. Along with playing their first game under a new coach, it was also the Canadiens’ first game coming off of their bye week, a situation that pretty much every team has struggled in this season.

Entering Saturday teams were only 3-9-2 in their first game after the bye. The Canadiens added another one to the loss column on Saturday even though they jumped out to an early 1-0 lead thanks to an Andrei Markov goal. That was pretty much the only highlight on the day for the Canadiens as they were unable to add to their lead and allowed Winnipeg to score three consecutive goals over the game’s final 36 minutes to take the win.

Joel Armia scored a beauty of a shorthanded goal to tie the game for the Jets at the 4:36 mark of the second period. The game remained tied until the 1:16 mark of the third period when Matthieu Perreault scored his fifth goal of the season to give the Jets the lead after an incredible individual effort from Dustin Byfuglien to fight through the Montreal defense and set up the goal.

Patrik Laine added an empty net goal, his 28th goal of the season, to put the game away later in the period.

With that goal and an assist on the Perrault goal Laine moved back into the NHL’s rookie lead for goals (28) and points (50) even though he has missed eight games this season.

He is on pace for 39 goals this season as an 18-year-old.

Dale Hawerchuk, Sidney Crosby and Steve Yzerman are the only three players in league history to score at least 39 goals as 18-year-olds in the NHL.

Montreal remains just four points ahead of the Ottawa Senators for the top spot in the Atlantic Division while the Senators (who have four games in hand on Montreal) could close that gap to two points on Saturday night if they can beat the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Canadiens have lost seven of their past eight games.

For the Jets, the win pulls them a little closer to a wild card spot in the Western Conference but they have already played three more games (at least) than every team they are competing with.