How I Spent My Summer: Winnipeg Jets

Elliotte Friedman joins Tim and Sid to discuss how Winnipeg Jets will have some tough roster decisions when it comes to contracts in the near future.

With school now back in session, and before training camps officially open next week, over the course of the next few days we’ll be bringing you up to date on how each of the seven Canadian NHL teams have spent their summers. Next up is the Winnipeg Jets.

How I Spent My Summer series: VAN | EDM | CGY | TOR | OTT | MTL

Current cap space: $10.2 million
GM: Kevin Cheveldayoff
Head Coach: Paul Maurice
Assistants: Todd Woodcroft, Charlie Huddy, Jamie Kompon
Unsigned players: Josh Morrissey (RFA), Eric Comrie (RFA)

Signings/PTOs (with cap hit):
– Laurent Brossoit, one year, $650,000
– Kristian Vesalainen, ELC
– Nicolas Kerdiles, one year, $650,000
– Tucker Poolman, three years, $750,000
– Marko Dano, one year, $800,000
– Brandon Tanev, one year, $1.15 million
– Adam Lowry, three years, $2.916 million
– Connor Hellebuyck, six years, $6.167 million
Blake Wheeler, five years, $8.25 million

Free Agent departures:
– Paul Stastny
– Matt Hendricks
– Tobias Enstrom
– Shawn Matthias
– Michael Hutchinson

Biggest Summer Splash: Blake Wheeler’s five-year contract extension

With a looming cap crunch, it’s clear something is going to have to give on this Jets roster in the next year. Cheveldayoff has locked in a core of players he believes can take another run at the Stanley Cup, but given they’re already close to the cap with Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba all on expiring contracts, and with Morrissey still an RFA right now, it’s time to start wondering who the GM will be willing to part with.

On Tuesday it became crystal clear that 32-year-old captain Blake Wheeler is not one of those players, as he locked in to a five-year extension and $8.25 million cap hit that will make him the team’s highest-paid player when it kicks in next season (barring Laine’s extension coming over the top).

It was important for the team to keep its leader and since Wheeler is coming off a career-best 91-point season, the Jets can reasonably expect him to keep up that production level for a few more years. Who cares if he falls off in the last year or two of the contract, because this signing was a signal of their intentions to go all-in for the Stanley Cup. And don’t underestimate how positive it is for the team culture and the fan base that a player facing a big payday in free agency chose to stay in Winnipeg.

Other notable additions and subtractions:

• After a much-improved 2017-18 season launched Connor Hellebuyck into the Vezina Trophy discussion among the world’s best goalies, what kind of deal would the RFA get from the Jets? The team saw enough last season and locked him in as their long-term starter while also trading away Steve Mason, who was a failed safety net. Hellebuyck signed a six-year contract with a $6.16 million cap hit and $7 million salary that makes him the third-highest paid goalie in 2018-19.

• The Jets signed 2017 first-rounder Kristian Vesalainen to an entry-level contract in August that opens the door for his arrival in North America. The 19-year-old was a top-20 scorer in Finland’s Liiga last season and is the next in a line of intriguing young talents the Jets have added to the roster over the past three years.

• The Jets bid adieu to a long-time member of the team when Tobias Enstrom left as a UFA and signed with MODO in Sweden. The 33-year-old was an eighth-round selection by Atlanta in 2003 and spent his entire 11-year NHL career with the Thrashers/Jets franchise, seven of which were spent in Winnipeg.

Other Summer Headlines:

Patrik Laine in ‘no rush’ to sign extension with Jets
A year away from becoming an RFA when his entry-level deal concludes, Laine won’t necessarily sign his extension this season. Fear not, Jets fans: he also said he was more inclined to sign a long-term deal “so you don’t have to think about doing a new contract for a while.”

Trouba not writing off long-term deal with Jets
While it is concerning the Jets weren’t able to sign Trouba long-term this summer and needed an arbitrator to sort out a one-year extension, at least he’s saying all the things fans want to hear rather than asking for another trade. Trouba talked about how proud he was getting to the Western Conference final and that this team is capable of taking another step this season. Still, until a long-term deal is signed to carve into his UFA years, Trouba will remain a rumour mill fixture. His contract progression with the Jets goes: ELC, two-year bridge contract, arbitration award.

Mark Scheifele makes pro golf debut at Players Cup
The Players Cup is a Canadian PGA event that was held at Southwood Golf and Country Club just outside of Winnipeg. Scheifele’s goal was to make the cut, but ended up shooting a 15-over 87. “I got to the 13th hole and I was wiped; I need a nap right now. It’s crazy the mental fortitude that they have, the bounceback that they need to have,” he said. Wheeler was originally supposed to play in the event on a sponsor’s exemption, but when he had to pass due to personal reasons, Scheifele subbed in.

Jets eliminate paper tickets for home games
You’ll no longer get into Winnipeg home games with paper tickets, as smartphones replace the print-at-home option. The team says this will help speed up entry into MTS Centre and make it more eco-friendly.

Josh Morrissey: ‘I love being a Winnipeg Jet’
Although the 23-year-old is still unsigned, there’s no indication this is a dispute that will drag into training camp or regular season.


Key questions heading in to training camp:

• Will Morrissey be there?
Although the outlook isn’t worrisome, until pen is put to paper we have to wonder if this contract will be done in time. Players who miss training camp and pre-season tend to get off to slower starts, which isn’t something the Jets can afford from a 23-year-old who logged an average of 20:27 per game in his second season.

It’ll also be important for Morrissey to be there because of an opportunity for an increased role. The departure of Enstrom opens up the possibility for a few more power play minutes for Morrissey, who only got one point on the man advantage in 2017-18.

• Where does Jack Roslovic fit in to the roster?
The 25th overall pick in 2015 led the AHL’s Manitoba Moose in scoring as a rookie in 2016-17 and was on track to do the same last season before an injury call-up led to 31 regular season NHL games, in which he logged 14 points. Roslovic has top-six pedigree and led his teams in scoring at each of the three levels he played prior to the NHL, but he slid further down the lineup with the Jets, mostly filling a third-line role on Bryan Little’s wing.

Prior to getting to Winnipeg, Roslovic was a centre and his NHL future could still be there. The departure of Paul Stastny via free agency to Vegas leaves a hole at second-line centre.

The most conservative option would be for the Jets to turn back to Little, who moved from the second to third line when Stastny was added at the deadline. Adam Lowry is an underrated role player, but is best cast as a third- or even fourth-line pivot. Roslovic has already gotten his feet wet in the NHL and could start getting some reps at centre in the pre-season to ease him in to a more difficult role. If he looks good he could start in the middle right out of the gate in October, but Winnipeg has other options in Mathieu Perreault or (long shot) Wheeler, who looked great there when filling in for injured Scheifele last season.

Winnipeg scored 61.54 per cent of the goals when Roslovic was on the ice, per, the highest mark on the team. He’s shown signs that he’ll become a top-six offensive player at this level, so he should at least start back on the third-line wing rather than the AHL. If he doesn’t become a centre out of camp, Roslovic could be the first one Paul Maurice turns to for a fill-in if Scheifele, Little or Lowry get injured.

• Can Hellebuyck replicate his breakout season?
Hellebuyck was first given the reins to the starter job in 2016-17, but struggled to a .907 save percentage and 2.89 GAA in 56 games, which was the main factor in missing the playoffs. Cheveldayoff didn’t give up on the player, but signed the veteran Mason as a safety net — an experiment that lasted two terrible games before Hellebuyck took over again. By the end of last season, he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.

The 25-year-old also needed a new contract, so his breakout came at a perfect time. His deal, signed on July 12, locked him in through the prime years of his career, but made him the sixth-highest paid goalie against the cap — ahead of such elites as Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick. With the cap crunch on the horizon, the Jets need to be getting the most out of their biggest investments.

Looking at Hellebuyck’s track record, there is more reason to believe his performance is sustainable than not. Prior to getting to the NHL he posted back-to-back AHL seasons with a .920-plus save percentage and in both of his NCAA seasons with UMass-Lowell his save rate was above .940.

The Jets were one of the better teams in preventing shots from high danger areas last season, which is of course helpful to the goalie. With no major turnover on the back end or up front, they should be able to continue that trend. In fact, that could be a key factor in Hellebuyck maintaining last year’s form, as his high danger save percentage of .802 ranked 16th among goalies who played at least 2000 minutes last season.

• What happens with Kristian Vesalainen?

The Jets have had great success injecting their draft picks into the NHL lineup in recent years, from high-end players such as Laine, to late-round gems such as Sami Niku, who got a brief look last season. Vesalainen is the next big one.

The six-foot-four, 207-pound winger was the highest-scoring under-20 player in the top Finnish league last season by a 10-point margin and will be at Jets camp this month. With a deep NHL roster already it’s not clear if there is a path for him to get to the NHL this season.

There’s still a chance he’ll return to Europe for the year if he doesn’t crack the Jets, but this is the top player to watch out of Winnipeg in the pre-season.

What Vegas is saying about the Jets…

Stanley Cup odds: +1000

Hart Trophy odds: Mark Scheifele +1500, Patrik Laine +3000, Blake Wheeler +5000

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