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Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Chevaldayoff has had a busy couple of weeks, signing emerging stars Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler and Zach Bogosian to new, long-term contracts. Many Jets fans were relieved with the news that their young core is now locked in, but the cost for these three players alone has to be a bit concerning.
Wheeler alone got $33 million over six years, which works out to a $5.6 million cap hit. Lofty numbers for a player that has only one 20-goal season under his belt by the age of 26. Little’s deal was a bit smaller ($4.7 per season), but similar in that he’s only scored 20 goals or more twice in his career. Generally speaking, most players that warrant a salary in the five million range are proven scorers, something that Wheeler and Little have yet to accomplish in their careers. It’s a similar story with Evander Kane, who signed a six year, $31 million deal last season after essentially one pretty good offensive year, though in Kane’s defense he’s only 21 years old and looks to be getting better as he matures.
The Bogosian story is a little bit different. Long lauded as having the potential for being one of the best defensemen in the game, he’s going to get paid like it. But again, $5.1 million for a 23-year old who has been up and down to this point in his career is a bit steep. All told, that’s a total investment of $124.6 million dollars for four players that have yet to win much of anything in their careers.
It seems to point to an interesting trend that’s emerged in a salary capped NHL, paying for potential. In an era where cost certainty is more important than ever, it’s a huge gamble for the Jets to lock in a core group of players that has only occasionally shown flashes of brilliance during their careers. If players like Wheeler, Little and Kane can live up to their potential, the deals will look fantastic in two or three years. Especially with the salary cap skyrocketing, as many people suspect. However if any one of them falters, the Jets are stuck with an unmovable contract and a huge headache.
It’s clear the Jets are trying to build their team in the image of recent Cup champions like Pittsburgh or Chicago. Collect young talent, sign them to long term deals and hope they can get their team to the top. However, one major difference is the young stars on those other teams have all proven they can win, with multiple NHL awards to their credit. Certainly nobody on the Jets can say the same. Again, paying for potential instead of results. If you think that’s a good idea, ask Edmonton how it’s working out for them.
As it stands right now, with less than a million left in cap space, it looks like the Jets roster is pretty much set for next season. They have three defensemen and six forwards making $4.4 million or more, and only one (Kane) doesn’t have some form of a NMC attached to their deals. Chevaldayoff better hope that he’s made the right choices here, because if this team doesn’t develop into a playoff quality club soon, there’s going to be a huge mess to clean up in Winnipeg after he’s fired.
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