What Next For The Winnipeg Jets?
Despite being ousted in the 2018 Western Conference Final, the Winnipeg Jets appear to have a bright future. However, they also face some significant offseason decisions. Check out the latest in your NHL rumor mill.
ESPN.COM: Re-signing restricted free agents such as goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and defensemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, as well as inking young winger Patrik Laine to a contract extension, are among Emily Kaplan’s offseason keys for the Winnipeg Jets.
Hellebucyk had a stellar season, becoming a finalist for the 2018 Vezina Trophy. Laine, who can be signed to an extension on July 1, could exceed Mark Scheifele’s $6.125 million annual average value. Trouba and Morrissey should be invaluable pieces of their blueline for years.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff likely also wants to retain RFAs such as Joel Armia, Adam Lowry, Joe Morrow and Brandon Tanev. He could also face some tough decisions regarding pending unrestricted free agents Paul Stastny and Toby Enstrom.
NBC SPORTS: James O’Brien noted the Jets will be challenged in the coming years by their Central Division rivals. They must continue to cultivate what O’Brien calls their “robust bounty of talented players.”
Re-signing Hellebuyck and Trouba this summer will be expensive, as will Laine and rookie Kyle Connor by next summer. Captain Blake Wheeler is also a year away from UFA status and could seek a significant raise, though he’ll be 33 when his next contract kicks in. O’Brien also wonders if Cheveldayoff might try moving backup goalie Steve Mason and his $4.1-million cap hit.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS: Jason Bell reports center Paul Stastny, an unrestricted free agent on July 1, is open to returning with the Jets. “There is always a possibility. I have no regrets,” said Stastny. “Probably the best decision I ever made was this one. It made the game that much more fun again.” The Jets gave up a first-round pick and a prospect to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline to acquire Stastny, who waived his no-trade clause to go to Winnipeg.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Matt Larkin wonders if there’s any way the Jets can retain Stastny. If he wants to return, Cheveldayoff could find it difficult coming up with sufficient salary-cap room to re-sign him. Stastny could be in high demand in this summer’s UFA market. Unless Cheveldayoff gets creative, Larkin doubts the Jets GM will have enough cap room left to retain Stastny.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: In a recent Featurd.io piece, I also explored the difficulty the Jets could face maintaining a contender.
They’ve never before dealt with the difficulty of maintaining a Stanley Cup contender. They’re about to find out how hard it can be. How Cheveldayoff manages this will determine how long the Jets’ championship window remains open. As long as those good young RFAs continue to improve, the Jets could maintain a deep roster for a while. At some point in the near future, however, salary-cap restrictions will be felt.
Cap Friendly indicates the Jets have over $55 million invested in 15 players for 2018-19. Assuming the cap ceiling reaches $80 million as projected, Cheveldayoff will have around $25 million to work with. Most of that, however, will be taken up by re-signing Hellebuyck, Trouba, and Morrissey, as well as most of their depth RFAs. That means bidding farewell to Stastny and Enstrom this summer.
Re-signing Laine, Connor and Wheeler will take big bites of their 2019-20 cap space. Defenseman Tyler Myers, who’s also a UFA next July, could become a cap casualty.