As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look toward the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The third batch of Offseason Primers moves to the Western Conference, featuring Central Division teams. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the Winnipeg Jets offseason.
Winnipeg Jets Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
After a quick exit in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a solid chunk of time to contemplate his team’s future. While the Jets’ season was derailed by injuries, they showed some concerning regressions this season as well. A depleted defence core, as well as poor centre depth, cost them a long playoff run. Cheveldayoff will have a lot of opportunities to create roster turnover, as the Jets have a large slate of pending free agents.
In terms of the Jets’ veterans, Dmitry Kulikov, Cody Eakin, Laurent Brossoit, Nathan Beaulieu, Dylan DeMelo, Nick Shore, Luca Sbisa, Logan Shaw, Mark Letestu, Gabriel Bourque, Anthony Bitetto, Andrei Chibisov, Seth Griffith, and Cameron Schilling are all pending unrestricted free agents. JC Lipon is a Group Six UFA.
The Jets have quite a few younger players up for new deals too. Jack Roslovic, Sami Niku, Jansen Harkins, Mason Appleton, Michael Spacek, C.J. Suess, Nelson Nogier are their pending restricted free agents.
Salary Cap Outlook
Winnipeg will still have a decent amount of cap space to maneuver with this offseason. With roughly $15.58 million in cap space (via the team’s CapFriendly page), Winnipeg will certainly have the flexibility to make choices. Cheveldayoff has a chance this fall to truly change the makeup of this roster.
It’s been a rough three years in Manitoba for the Lipetsk, Russia native. Kulikov’s played no more than 62 games in a season for the Jets, as he’s continuously struggled with various injuries. Those injuries have taken a toll on his overall game as well, as he’s only tallied 27 points in a Jets uniform. It’s a far cry from his offensive production with the Florida Panthers, where he once tallied more than 27 points in a single season.
While Kulikov didn’t rebound offensively this season, his possession metrics improved significantly from past seasons. He posted a 51.5 percent Corsi For, his first time finishing over 50 percent since 2014-15. These unusually high numbers for Kulikov may suggest a one-off resurgence in terms of his possession games. Given Kulikov’s value may be higher than in recent years, it might be smart for Winnipeg to let Kulikov walk on the open market. Otherwise, Kulikov may command a higher cap hit from the Jets that may soon become an overpayment.
While Winnipeg had some valuable depth come in and boost a battered blue line, Beaulieu was not one of these pieces. Beaulieu wasn’t relied upon to play heavy minutes for the team at all, playing only 17 minutes a night. He only tallied eight points in 38 games, while also posting some rather concerningly low possession metrics.
Beaulieu was more a liability than a benefit for the Jets’ defence this season. Cheveldayoff is unlikely to retain him at an NHL level.
Little else needs to be said for Bitetto. Most of the issues that Beaulieu presents are similar in Bitetto’s game. The former Predator was even more inept offensively, posting only eight points in 51 games. He saw even less usage than Beaulieu as well, only playing 15:10 a night.
He’s unlikely to pose a benefit factor for the team short or long term and is unlikely to be re-signed.
The Jets’ first-round pick back in 2015, Roslovic is slowly developing into one of the more crucial depth players on the team. Playing in all 71 games of the Jets’ season this year, Roslovic tallied 12 goals and 29 points.
He projects to be the centrepiece of the Jets’ bottom-six forward group moving forward. He’s on the top of Cheveldayoff’s ‘need-to-retain’ list, and for good reason. Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) projects a two-year extension for Roslovic. The estimated cap hit is $2.83 million per season. Winnipeg is left with $12.75 million in cap space.
The Jets still need centre depth, so it’s unlikely they’ll let one of their centres walk. Eakin performed well for the Jets after a mid-season trade from the Vegas Golden Knights. He posted five points in eight games, making himself a valuable offensive asset to the squad. Cheveldayoff will likely be able to retain him for a reasonable amount and expect him to do just that if possible.
Evolving-Hockey projects a three-year deal worth $2.78 million a season, bringing Winnipeg’s cap space to $9.97 million.
DeMelo was another important mid-season acquisition by the Jets, this time, acquired from the Ottawa Senators. While he was pointless in his ten games with Winnipeg, he logged over 21 minutes of ice time a night and posted solid possession metrics. He showed that he can be an effective two-way defenceman while also being able to swallow up huge minutes for the team.
DeMelo’s projected contract via Evolving-Hockey is for three seasons, making him $2.37 million a season. Winnipeg’s cap room drops down to $7.6 million.
Winnipeg doesn’t need a stellar backup with the way starter Connor Hellebuyck has played. However, Brossoit gives the team a chance to win every time he’s in net, even if his appearances are few and far between. Brossoit is a good re-sign for the Jets in terms of his value proposition – he’ll be cheap to retain.
Brossoit will likely only earn a modest raise on his current cap hit. Expect a short-term deal for around $1.5 million a season, bringing Winnipeg’s cap space to $6.1 million.
Potential Free Agent Additions
Winnipeg will likely use their free-agent capital to immediately address the defence problem.
One name that seems like a likely fit given their cap space is that of Travis Hamonic. Now 29 years old, Hamonic has performed well for the Calgary Flames in recent seasons. He logged over 21 minutes of ice time this season while still performing well defensively, making him a desirable asset on the free-agent market. Winnipeg will likely have to pay a premium for his services, but it may be worth it in the long run.