A comprehensive look at the Winnipeg Jets’ contract situation

NHL insider Ken Wiebe joins Sean Reynolds to break down the end of season zoom interviews with Jets' head coach Paul Maurice and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, and why signs point to the team making some bold moves this offseason.

WINNIPEG – Kevin Cheveldayoff is sure to make some modifications to the Winnipeg Jets this off-season.

That’s the nature of the business, especially for a group that’s had two early exits after an impressive run to the Western Conference Final in 2018.

Cheveldayoff is famous for discussing the importance of keeping one eye on the present while keeping the other on the future — and that’s a fine line so many general managers have to toe.

But with several of his core pieces under contract for at least four more seasons, the win-now component is likely to come to the forefront as Cheveldayoff prepares for his 10th off-season running the franchise.

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“So, last year you approached free agency differently because you had the RFA contracts that needed to get done. The year before that you approached it differently because of the circumstances that were presenting (themselves) at that time,” Cheveldayoff said during his season-ending availability. “Sometimes you’re a little more active in free agency depending on where things are at. Our RFA situations are not as numerous as they were last year. You’ll take a look at the UFA market, you’ll take a look at the trade market as well, simply because of maybe other teams’ potential cap situations with the flat cap, and see if there’s anything there.

“You’re probably going to see some guys around the league not get qualified because of potential cap situations on other teams, so you’ll take a look at that as well. That’s the work that needs to get done between now and then with our staff and there’s a lot that goes into each and every decision as to which path you ultimately take.”

A year ago, Cheveldayoff fully understood his off-season priority was to get the names of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor on new contracts.

He also knew the money required to get those deals done would eat up the bulk of the cap space that was available to him.

Fast forward to present day, where the biggest restricted free agent requiring a new contract is Jack Roslovic.

Roslovic posted career-bests in goals (12), assists (17) and points (29), but he’s not about to cash in like Connor, who was chosen seven picks ahead of him in the 2015 NHL Draft.

When it comes to Roslovic’s future, there is still some debate as to whether he will remain on the wing or if he could still get a shot playing centre.

He’s a capable middle-six forward and has the potential to hit 20 goals and probably eclipse 50 points, but whether he does that with the Jets or another organization is up for debate.

Roslovic is the type of player who would garner interest if he became available on the trade market, but for the time being, he’s likely heading for a bridge deal that includes a modest raise.

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The Jets have 11 pending unrestricted free agents (goalie Laurent Brossoit; defencemen Dylan DeMelo, Dmitry Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Luca Sbisa and Anthony Bitetto; and forwards Cody Eakin, Nick Shore, Logan Shaw, Gabriel Bourque and Mark Letestu) and another four of the restricted variety (defenceman Sami Niku and forwards Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins and Roslovic).

Appleton is a forward whose role should continue to grow, while Harkins took great strides this season and is set to become a full-time NHLer.

As for Niku, to this point his future remains a mystery.

An off-season departure is possible, though not a foregone conclusion.

What the Jets don’t want is to have a Julius Honka situation on their hands.

Honka, the 14th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars, didn’t accept his qualifying offer, eventually asked for a trade and when one couldn’t be arranged, he spent the past season playing back home in Finland.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

There will be trades to propose and pitches to make to unrestricted free agents, but before any of that happens, let’s take a comprehensive look at who is under contract and what questions remain unanswered — at least for the time being.

The health and future of Bryan Little is also going to be a factor, one way or another.

It’s still unknown whether Little will make a return to full health, if he will be forced to retire after suffering a head injury in early November or if he will remain on the long-term injury list.

Little is under contract for four more years at $5.291 million and he will be given all the time he needs to come to a decision, though the outcome has an obvious impact on the Jets’ salary-cap situation.

The projections for the off-season moves are still to come, but for the time being, let’s take a closer look at the contract statuses of the 33 players who were part of the Jets’ training camp 2.0 (plus three bonus prospects that will be competing for work next season, who would have been part of the taxi squad had there not been limitations brought upon by the pandemic).

Let’s break things down by position:

Forwards

Blake Wheeler
Position: RW/C
Age: 34 (on Aug. 31)
Contract status: Signed through 2023-24, then UFA
AAV: $8.25 million
The skinny: Got off to a slow offensive start by his 91-point standards, but generated offence at a point per game level after chipping in eight points in 16 games. He filled in admirably after moving into the second-line centre role and provided sound leadership during the course of a turbulent season.

Mark Scheifele
Position: C
Age: 27
Contract status: Signed through 2023-24, then UFA
AAV: $6.13 million
The skinny: The 2011 first-rounder is the engine that drives the Jets’ offence. His 73 points left him tied for the team scoring lead and made it four consecutive seasons of producing at a point-per-game pace. An ankle injury cut his post-season short, but he’s determined to come back better than ever after he recovers.

Kyle Connor
Position: LW
Age: 23
Contract status: Signed through 2025-26, then UFA
AAV: $7.13 million
The skinny: Produced a third consecutive 30-plus goal season and led his team with seven game-winners this season. Tied for the team scoring lead with Scheifele and took another step in his development. The only downside was being limited to one assist (on the power play) against the Flames in the qualifying round.

Patrik Laine
Position: RW
Age: 22
Contract status: Signed through 2020-21, then RFA
AAV: $6.75 million
The skinny: Set a career high in assists and flourished with the bump to the first line. Although his goal totals and power-play production was down, his all-around game is refined and his engagement level was high. The best is yet to come for the Finnish sniper.

Nikolaj Ehlers
Position: RW/LW
Age: 24
Contract status: Signed through 2024-25, then UFA
AAV: $6 million
The skinny: The speedy winger took massive strides this season and put the narrative to rest that his game wouldn’t translate into playoff success. Next step is his first 30-goal season.

Andrew Copp
Position: C/LW
Age: 26
Contract status: Signed through 2020-21, then RFA
AAV: $2.28 million
The skinny: He’s become the Swiss Army knife of this squad, able to move up and down the lineup and contribute in a variety of ways. He’s part of the leadership group and would like to lay claim to the second-line centre job.

Adam Lowry
Position: C
Age: 27
Contract status: Signed through 2020-21, then UFA
AAV: $2.92 million
The skinny: Injuries were part of a frustrating season, but he remains a vital piece of the checking line and penalty killing unit. A favourite of head coach Paul Maurice, Lowry is a physical force whose value stretches well beyond the points he produces.

Jack Roslovic
Position: RW/C
Age: 23
Contract status: Pending RFA
AAV: $894,166
The skinny: His average ice time was up nearly three minutes per game and so was his production and consistency. There’s still another level for him to reach, but he’s trending upward.

Bryan Little
Position: C
Age: 32
Contract status: Signed through 2023-24, then UFA
AAV: $5.29 million
The skinny: Sidelined since Nov. 3, there is no guarantee the veteran centre plays another NHL game. He’s contemplated his future and is taking the time necessary to make the right decision for his health and long-term well being.

Cody Eakin
Position: C
Age: 29
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $3.85 million
The skinny: Chipped in five points in eight games with the Jets after being acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights, but was held off the scoresheet in the qualifying series against the Flames. Just a season removed from a 22-goal campaign, the Winnipegger is best utilized in a checking-line role. He’s likely going to be searching for a new home.

Jansen Harkins
Position: LW/C
Age: 23
Contract status: Pending RFA
AAV: $767,500
The skinny: Nobody took bigger strides in terms of boosting their stock in the organization than the 2015 second-rounder, who went from fringe prospect to NHL regular. He’s versatile and smart and will carve out a bigger role for himself over time.

Mathieu Perreault
Position: LW
Age: 32
Contract status: Signed through 2020-21, then UFA
AAV: $4.13 million
The skinny: The 32-year-old was held to seven goals and 15 points as he appeared in only 49 games during an injury-plagued campaign while spending the bulk of his time on the fourth line. He’s not providing the value he once did and isn’t likely to return to 18-goal form.

Nick Shore
Position: C/RW
Age: 27
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $750,000
The skinny: Claimed off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs, he brought experience to the fourth line and helped the penalty kill show signs of improvement.

Mason Appleton
Position: RW
Age: 24
Contract status: Pending RFA
AAV: $741,667
The skinny: Has grown into an important penalty killer and has the potential to be a capable Brandon Tanev replacement next season. Can play with an edge and provide some secondary scoring.

Logan Shaw
Position: RW
Age: 27
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $700,000
The skinny: Depth piece ended up suiting up in 35 games after not getting a sniff one season earlier, when he led the Manitoba Moose in goals. A candidate for a two-way deal.

Gabriel Bourque
Position: LW
Age: 29
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $700,000
The skinny: Didn’t make the expected impact on the penalty kill and didn’t provide much in terms of secondary scoring, either. There were hits and blocked shots, but he’s not expected back.

David Gustafsson
Position: Centre
Age: 20
Contract status: Two years remaining on entry-level contract, then RFA
AAV: $817,500
The skinny: The 2018 second-rounder is mature beyond his years and is the front-runner to be the fourth-line centre next season — after suiting up in 22 NHL games as a rookie. He has upside to contribute offensively, but it’s his defensive awareness that will accelerate the process of him locking down a roster spot.

Mark Letestu
Position: C/RW
Age: 35
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $700,000
The skinny: The veteran went through a heart issue this season that limited him to seven games and he hasn’t suited up in game action since November. He wants to keep playing, but the Jets’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy may have to shift his focus to the coaching ranks.

CJ Suess
Position: C/LW
Age: 26
Contract status: Pending RFA
AAV: $700,000
The skinny: Bounced back nicely from a shoulder injury that cut his rookie pro season short to make his NHL debut against the San Jose Sharks in November. He’s a dependable defensive player, but he’ll need to jump over several people on the depth chart to become a full-timer.

Defence

Josh Morrissey
Age: 25
Contract status: Signed an extension through 2025-26, then UFA
AAV: $6.25 million
The skinny: By his own admission, it was a season of learning for Morrissey, who got a new defence partner (several, in fact), a new contract (that kicks in next season) and new responsibilities as an alternate captain. The 2013 first-rounder finished strong and figures to be the linchpin of the Jets defence corps for years to come.

Dylan DeMelo
Age: 27
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $900,000
The skinny: His arrival in a deadline-deal helped solidify the Jets’ defence corps and he finished the season on the shutdown pairing with Morrissey. DeMelo made a seamless transition and expressed an interest in sticking around for longer than just his rental term. But at his expected price point, he’s sure to generate a plethora of offers should he get to free agency.

Neal Pionk
Age: 25
Contract status: Signed through 2020-21, then RFA
AAV: $3 million
The skinny: Acquired in the deal for Jacob Trouba, Pionk established a career-high for points (45 in 71 games) and led the Jets in power-play points (25). He will either anchor the second pairing or be bumped up with Morrissey next season.

Dmitry Kulikov
Age: 29
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $4.33 million
The skinny: His three-year pact is expiring and after spending the bulk of his time on the third pairing with Tyler Myers, the Russian blue-liner played on the second grouping and supplied plenty of quality minutes. He’s unlikely to return though, unless it’s at a reduced salary.

Tucker Poolman
Age: 27
Contract status: Signed through 2020-21 season, then UFA
AAV: $775,000
The skinny: Spent a chunk of the season on the top pairing, but was better served by a move to the third pairing after the arrival of DeMelo. The University of North Dakota product has the inside track on the job after a strong showing during the Stanley Cup qualifier.

Nathan Beaulieu
Age: 27
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $1 million
The skinny: The 2011 first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens is beloved by his teammates and battled through a number of injuries this season after betting on himself on a one-year deal. Don’t be surprised to see him sign another one.

Luca Sbisa
Age: 30
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $750,000
The skinny: After being claimed off waivers from the Anaheim Ducks, he brought a physical presence and actually spent some time on the second pairing when Kulikov was out with an injury. He’s got ample experience and can handle the role of a seventh D-man better than most, thanks to his perspective.

Anthony Bitetto
Age: 30
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $700,000
The skinny: Another of the high-character guys, Bitetto is a vocal guy who brings energy but is best utilized in a depth role. Could be a candidate for a two-way deal.

Carl Dahlstrom
Age: 25
Contract status: Signed through 2020-21, then RFA
AAV: $850,000
The skinny: Claimed off waivers prior to the start of the NHL season with the Chicago Blackhawks over in Europe, Dahlstrom showed some flashes before an injury cut his season short. He’s got the inside track on the seventh D-man job, though he’s capable to move up onto the third pairing if necessary.

Sami Niku
Age: 23
Contract status: RFA
AAV: $775,000
The skinny: This year was essentially an unmitigated disaster for Niku, who battled through a number of injuries and was limited to 17 games in the NHL and another 18 in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose. He’s no longer exempt from waivers, so the former AHL D-man of the year is either going to be with the Jets or another NHL team this winter. He’s a candidate to be included in an off-season deal, as a fresh start might serve him well.

Logan Stanley
Age: 22
Contract status: Entering final year of entry-level contract, then RFA
AAV: $866,333
The skinny: After a strong first pro season, the 2016 first-rounder battled through injuries and his development stalled somewhat. In the short term, Stanley likely needs another full season of AHL duty before battling for full-time NHL work, but the organization remains high on him.

Nelson Nogier
Age: 24
Contract status: Pending RFA
AAV: $700,000
The skinny: With the departure of several long-time Moose players like Peter Stoykewych and JC Lipon, Nogier is a strong candidate to receive a qualifying offer and be in the mix to become the next captain of the AHL affiliate.

Goalies

Connor Hellebuyck
Age: 27
Contract status: Signed through 2023-24, then UFA
AAV: $6.17 million
The skinny: The presumptive favourite for the Vezina Trophy is a workhorse and that isn’t expected to change anytime soon. The early exit from the post-season is sure to serve as additional motivation as the Jets’ No. 1 guy continues to push himself to reach new heights.

Laurent Brossoit
Age: 27
Contract status: Pending UFA
AAV: $1.23 million
The skinny: A slow start to the season likely ruled out a chance to chase a starting job elsewhere, but a better finish means the Jets would welcome him back to be Hellebuyck’s understudy. With the Seattle Kraken expansion draft coming in 2021, taking a one-year deal in a comfortable situation might make the most sense for Brossoit.

Eric Comrie
Age: 25
Contract status: Signed through 2020-21, then UFA
AAV: $700,000
The skinny: This past year was an odyssey for the No. 3 goalie in the organization, one that included being claimed off waivers by the Arizona Coyotes and traded to the Detroit Red Wings and then claimed back by the Jets and eventually returned to the Moose. He’ll be in the mix for the backup job, but he’s likely to have some experienced competition.

Mikhail Berdin
Age: 22
Contract status: Entering final year of entry-level deal, then RFA
AAV: $758,333
The skinny: The departure of Comrie allowed Berdin to move into the No. 1 role in the AHL, though he was over-worked by mid-season. If Comrie is back in the AHL, they would provide a formidable duo. Could compete for NHL backup job in 2021-22.

The top prospects

Dylan Samberg
Position: Defence
Age: 22
Contract status: Signed through 2021-22
AAV: $925,000
The skinny: The extended period of time before training camp could serve Samberg well, as he will have a few extra months to get his body ready for the grind of an 82-game season. After having his junior season of college cut short at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Samberg will be in the mix to compete for an NHL job. He’s mobile, but plays with a physical edge. While he projects as a shutdown guy, he’s a candidate to be on the third pairing with Poolman.

Ville Heinola
Position: Defence
Age: 19
Contract status: Entering first of three years of entry-level contract, then RFA
AAV: $925,000
The skinny: The smooth-skating Finnish blue liner surprised many by opening last season with the Jets and appeared in eight NHL games (chipping in his first NHL goal and five points) before he was sent to the minors and eventually returned to Finland. His offensive instincts are NHL ready and he’ll be in the mix for a roster spot when training camps open.

Kristian Vesalainen
Position: Left wing
Age: 21
Contract status: Two more years remaining on entry-level contract, then RFA
AAV: $894,000
The skinny: It’s important to remember the player’s age before rushing to judgement. No, the Finnish winger didn’t light it up in the AHL after starting the prior season in the NHL, but he still averaged 0.5 points per game (12 goals, 30 points in 60 games) with the Moose and worked on developing his two-way efficiency. He developed some chemistry with Gustafsson and the duo could end up on a line together at some point this winter.

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