NHL Off-season Primer: Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg fans celebrate the start of game four of the NHL playoffs between the Winnipeg Jets and the Anaheim Ducks in Winnipeg. (John Woods/CP)

In the fourth instalment of our Canadian team-by-team Off-Season Primers, we take deep look at the key decisions–and salary cap considerations–facing the Winnipeg Jets this summer.

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Head Coach — Paul Maurice
GM — Kevin Cheveldayoff

Salary cap space: $23,347,502 (assuming a $71.5 million upper limit, according to salary data found at generalfanager.com).

Front Office Outlook
The Jets front office has been criticized for its patience, but it turns out GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was simply waiting for the right moment to pounce. Cheveldayoff, who went into last season having never swung an NHL player-for-player trade, made perhaps the season’s biggest blockbuster deal when he sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo in a deal that brought back Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, prospect Joel Armia and a first round pick in the coming draft.

The Jets are an interesting study. By finishing fourth (100 points) in the uber-tough Central, Winnipeg justified its patient build since arriving in the Manitoba capital. The Jets are big, relatively young, and very good. However, being swept out of the first round by Anaheim quickly taught us that they still have some distance to travel before becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Sure, the Jets have some awesome prospects on the way — Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrisey, Nic Petan, goalie Connor Hellebuyck and Armia — but as a northern outpost, they’ll always have to deal with the threat of losing free agents like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, who will both be UFAs after the coming season.

Winnipeg has two first round picks — their own at No. 17 and St. Louis’ at 25 — and history tells us their draft-and-develop model means they won’t part with either. But has an organization that dealt away Kane changed its philosophy? That much we will find out in Florida.

Players under contract for 2015-16 (annual average value and duration):

Toby Enstrom, D: $5.75M AAV through 2017-18
Blake Wheeler, RW: $5.6M AAV through 2018-19
Tyler Myers, D: $5.5M AAV through 2018-19
Dustin Byfuglien, D: $5.2M AAV through 2015-16
Bryan Little, C: $4.7M AAV through 2017-18
Andrew Ladd, LW: $4.4M through 2015-16
Ondrej Pavelec, G: $3.9M AAV through 2016-17
Mathieu Perreault, C: $3M AAV through 2016-17
Mark Stuart, D: $2.625M AAV through 2017-18
Grant Clitsome, D: $2,067M AAV through 2015-16
Chris Thorburn, RW: $1.2M AAV through 2016-17
Jay Harrison, D: $1.05M AAV through 2015-16
Jacob Trouba, D: $894,166 AAV through 2015-16
Mark Scheifele, C: $863,333 AAV through 2015-16
Adam Lowry, LW: $828,333 AAV through 2015-16
Michael Hutchinson, G: $575,000 AAV through 2015-16

There is a ton of cap space here with only a couple of pressing UFAs to be signed, an indication of good management in Winnipeg. Extensions for Byfuglien and Ladd would be top of mind for Cheveldayoff after his contracts are taken care of this summer, starting with UFA right wingers Stafford and Frolik. This may be an either/or situation.

Enstrom, Myers, Byfuglien, Stuart, Trouba, Clitsome and Ben Chiarot give the Jets a very stable back end, with Josh Morrissey ready to turn pro in 2015-16. There is enough goaltending here between Hutchinson and Pavelec — even if the salary split is a tad askew between the two — and if Hellebuyck can duplicate his first AHL season (2.58 GAA, .921 save percentage), the Jets may be well set in goal for years to come.

Restricted free agents (2014-15 salary):

Paul Postma, D: $775,000
Keaton Ellerby, D: $700,000
Ben Chiarot, D: $600,000
Anthony Peluso, RW: $575,000

AHL RFAs: Jussi Olkinuora, G; Patrick Holland, RW; Julian Melchiori, D; Ivan Telegin, LW; John Albert, C.

Nothing of note here. Chiarot is highly valued as a 24-year-old who will open the season among the Jets Top 6 defencemen next season. Postma is a depth D-man who, along with Ellerby, are holding a spot for Morrissey. If Postma and Ellerby are re-signed, it could spell the end for Pardy, a UFA.

Unrestricted free agents (2014-15 AAV):

Drew Stafford, RW: $4M
Michael Frolik, RW: $3.3M
Jiri Tlusty, C: $2.95M
Jim Slater, C: $1.6M
Lee Stempniak, RW: $900,000
Matt Halischuk, RW: $725,000
Adam Pardy, D: $700,000
Eric O’Dell, C: $650,000

You’ll notice four right wingers on that list. That is an issue for sure, especially considering none are what you would consider blue-chip, genuine first-liners. Frolik saw some time on the top line with Scheifele and Wheeler last season, and some time with Ladd and Little. Ditto for Stafford.

Both Stafford and Frolik will be angling for hefty raises as UFAs, which could leave the Jets targeting one of the two, and letting the other one walk. We’d keep Frolik. Meanwhile, Tlusty can’t earn a whole lot more than $2.95 million as a support forward, and Stempniak will likely wait into July while Cheveldayoff gets a feel for how the rest of his guys price out.

It’s hard to see Pardy back in Winnipeg, considering the Jets depth on defence.

Possible off-season targets

Matt Beleskey
A finisher to play with Scheifele would be an awesome get for the Jets, who finished in the middle of the pack at 2.72 goals per game last season. A team that’s caught between possibly losing some key UFA talent after next season, and waiting for a very good crop of youth on the way up, might speed up the process by adding Beleskey, who is coming off a career high 22 goals this season, plus eight more in the post-season.

Curtis Glencross
Some depth at forward wouldn’t hurt here, and Glencross’ game matches the energy the Jets play with at the MTS Centre. If not Glencross, how about a guy like Joel Ward or Shawn Matthias, two players whose separate skills may find a fit on the Jets forward lines?

Biggest off-season need:

A triggerman to play with Wheeler and Scheifele. And a depth forward.

A truly dangerous sniper off the wing on the first line would work here, and might be what it takes to get over the top in the tough Central. The Jets power play was also mid-pack (17th), and now that Winnipeg has established itself as a club that can push you right out of the MTS Centre, it would be nice to take the offence to the next level as well.

After that, some help on the third and fourth lines would be an upgrade. Winnipeg couldn’t hold a lead in its first round ouster to Anaheim. A Trevor Lewis-, Dwight King-type of player who can help protect a lead would have made a difference this spring.

Biggest-off-season question:

Will Cheveldayoff get the names of Ladd and Byfuglien on extensions before the 2015-16 season begins? Or will the question of their allegiance to Winnipeg become an issue that circulates through the Jets’ dressing room all winter long? Let’s face it: As long as you are Winnipeg (or Edmonton) you’ll be paranoid about pending UFAs who exercise their out clauses. And it doesn’t matter how many good young players your program is adding to the bottom of the roster. If the best veterans continue to fall off the top, you’ll just be spinning your wheels.

Read more off-season primers
Vancouver Canucks
Montreal Canadiens
Edmonton Oilers

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