Heading into action on January 16th, the Winnipeg Jets have a record of 21-21-3 for 45 points, which puts them at the bottom of the toughest division in hockey, the Central. This places the Jets 11th in the West behind the Canucks, Predators and the current second wild card the Colorado Avalanche (47 points). The smart play and the moves that have to be made regarding Winnipeg’s pending unrestricted free agents, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd is for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to sell.
Winnipeg Jets Must Sell Big as NHL Trade Deadline Approaches
The Winnipeg Jets are a real contender for Auston Matthews aren’t they? Especially after they sell off Ladd and Byfuglien
— Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie) January 13, 2016
Why Byfuglien & Ladd Must Go
Both Byfuglien and Ladd have a lot in common. They are very good players who are in their early thirties (Byfuglien turns 31 in March and Ladd is 30). While neither player is elite both are core players who are leaders. However, having said all that both players want to be paid like they are in the elite class. In order to resign Ladd and Byfuglien it will take a 6-7 year deal with an annual value between $6.5 – $7.0 million each.
The first part of the problem is how many prime years do both players have left given they are now in their thirties? There is a strong probability over the next two-three years both players will continue their current level of production. But after that one should expect a drop off in play given their ages and wear and tear. At that point the Jets would have a pair of players with a cap hit in the neighborhood of $7 million, when their production would probably be half that in terms of cap level players.
NHL organizations in today’s salary cap world cannot fall into the trap of grossly over paying their current players both on annual value and years in terms of the contract because another team will. An organization cannot be afraid of letting a player walk out the door. There are so many teams in cap hell because they have paid really good players front line money over many years. Many of these franchises are regretting those decisions today. For the Jets in terms of running a hockey organization it’s an easy decision. It’s an uphill climb for Winnipeg to land the second wild card spot. Even if they manage to do so, a lopsided first round loss in the playoffs would be the net result. Cheveldayoff has to look at the forest, not the trees.
Where do the Jets Go From Here?
The good news is Winnipeg has a good core on their main roster outsider of Byfuglien and Ladd. Also according to HockeysFuture.com’s brand new NHL team rankings the Jets have the 2nd best pipeline in the sport. So by moving both Byfuglien and Ladd and acquiring more future assets, Winnipeg would be taking a step back immediately but in the near future they would be going three steps forward.
I would like to see Cheveldayoff pull of a trade where he lands a top prospect who has an excellent chance to start their NHL career by opening night next season. In a perfect world this player would be a forward. Two names come to mind and that is Lawson Crouse of the Florida Panthers and Michael Dal Colle of the New York Islanders. Both players are playing for the Kingston Frontenacs. Crouse has 24 points in 22 games, while Dal Colle has 35 points in 34 games. Given the upside of both players, how close they are to the NHL and that both Byfuglien and Ladd could be rentals, it would probably take trading both to land such a high quality prospect. Cheveldayoff should be going after high quality not quantity.
I know what I am proposing is not the greatest from a PR standpoint in terms of the message sent to the fan base. But remember, trading Byfuglien and Ladd is not about not paying top dollar to your players. It’s about not over paying players in their thirties where the clock is ticking. If these moves are made it will open up a lot of cap space and the Jets payroll budget heading into the summer. Winnipeg can use these dollars and sign a younger UFA such as Kyle Okposo. If Winnipeg follows this road map they will be the better for it in the long term and I believe a sleeping giant in the West who will be awoken very soon.