With only 12 players under contract and a number of high-profile restricted free agents to sign, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have his hands full this summer.
And as recent history has shown with RFAs, things could get ugly in the Manitoba capital.
Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Alexander Burmistrov all need new contracts, so expect a fair share of posturing coming from both camps, and of course the predictable trade rumours and offer-sheet noise.
It happened last summer with Evander Kane and Ondrej Pavelec, and there’s no reason to believe things will be different this off-season.
But the summer is long and barring any unexpected turns, all four players should return next season. They will be joined by top prospects Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, who will help bolster a young talented core that is seemingly on the precipice of success.
Moving out of the dreadful Southeast and into a division with the Blackhawks and Blues will be a difficult adjustment, but the Jets should be able to contend for a top-three spot in their division.
With some cap room to play with and a number of open roster spots, Cheveldayoff will have the chance this off-season to build around the strengths of his team.
Who should re-sign?
Projected cap room: $28,317,500 (via capgeek.com)
Unless he is presented an offer he can’t refuse, expect Cheveldayoff to reach deals with his big four RFAs.
Wheeler and Little comprise two-thirds of the top line, while Bosgosian is the team’s No. 1 defenceman of the future. Burmistrov could be used as trade bait if he truly is unhappy with the situation in Winnipeg, but if that’s the case, Cheveldayoff won’t be dealing from a position of strength and would be better off holding onto the slick two-way centre.
Also important is finding room for RFAs Zach Redmond and Paul Postma, who look ready to make the full-time jump to the NHL.
Restricted free agents
Bryan Little, centre: Little has stagnated offensively since scoring a career-high 51 points in 2008-09, but he is still an effective player and gives the Jets depth down the middle. Will likely receive a modest raise.
Alexander Burmistrov, centre: Burmistrov’s future in Winnipeg is unclear at the moment. The 21-year-old Russian has reportedly requested a trade, but it would be surprising to see Cheveldayoff give up on the talented centre this early into his career.
Blake Wheeler, right wing: Wheeler led all Jets with 19 goals and was on pace for 70 points over a full season. There’s no question the fifth overall pick in 2004 is a central part of this team moving forward.
Eric Tangradi, left wing: With only two goals in 81 career games, Tangradi has struggled to make an impact at NHL level. The hulking, slow-footed winger could be brought back to add size and snarl to the bottom six, but his future in Winnipeg is far from guaranteed.
Zach Bogosian, defence: Bogosian has yet to reach the heights expected of him after being selected third overall in 2008, but at only 22 years of age the speedy defenceman still has plenty of room to grow. Expect the Jets to lock him up long term.
Zach Redmond, defence: Missed all but eight games this past season after suffering a life-threatening leg laceration. The 24-year-old two-way defenceman will be back with the Jets next season.
Paul Postma, defence: Postma is another up-and-coming blue-liner who has put up big numbers at every level. Expect him to play a bigger role next season.
Arturs Kulda, defence: The Riga, Latvia, native spent the majority of this past season in the KHL. Could provide cheap minor-league depth if he decides to remain in North America next season.
Unrestricted free agents
Nik Antropov, centre: Jets will be glad to rid themselves of Antropov’s $4-million cap hit.
Kyle Wellwood, wing: Another stop-gap player who could be replaced internally or upgraded via free agency.
Antii Miettinen, left wing: Seems to have lost a step since his days in Minnesota. Miettinen is a suitable third- or fourth-line winger, but the Jets will likely look to upgrade in the off-season.
Mike Santorelli, wing: Santorelli fits in well with the speedy Jets roster. Not a priority, but not a bad depth forward either.
Ron Hainsey, defence: Hainsey was a good soldier for the Jets/Thrashers franchise the past few years, but it might be time for both sides to move on.
Grant Clitsome, defence: The Jets would love to hold on to Clitsome, but with a stable of youngsters ready to step in, it might be wise to replace him with cheaper talent.
Al Montoya, goaltender: Montoya could be brought back for cheap, but the Jets might want to consider bringing in a more reliable backup to share the crease with the flaky Pavelec.
Free agent fits
Clarke MacArthur, wing: The former Thrasher is a good possession player who can play on the third line but also fill in on the second line if needed. Would fit in well with the speed-driven Jets.
Nathan Horton, right wing: Although it’s unlikely he hits the open market, Horton would be a perfect fit with the Jets. He would look great on a line opposite Andrew Ladd or Evander Kane.
Viktor Stalberg, left wing: The 27-year-old Swede brings size and speed and would add scoring depth on the wing in Winnipeg.
Douglas Murray, defence: The Jets could use size, experience and a left-handed shot on defence and Murray brings all those elements.