As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. 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. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the Winnipeg Jets offseason.
Winnipeg Jets Offseason Primer
After sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Jets were then swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the Second Round. The club lost Mark Scheifele after Game 1 for a charging call that cost him the remainder of the series. They also lost Dylan Demelo in Game 1 to injury, who might have arguably been a bigger loss due to their weaker defence group. This is going to be an area of focus for the Jets this offseason.
Pending Free Agents
Before the Jets go looking at making any significant moves in free agency or trades, they need to take care of their own free agents first. Out of the Jets 11 pending free agents, only three are restricted. Andrew Copp, Neal Pionk and Logan Stanley. These are three important pieces that they will surely want to lock up to new deals.
The unrestricted free agents include forwards Nate Thompson, Mathieu Perreault, Paul Stastny, defencemen Jordie Benn, Tucker Poolman, Derek Forbort and backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit. There’s a good chance you see most of these UFA’s walk in free agency.
Salary Cap Outlook
The Winnipeg Jets currently have about $20.5 million in cap space heading into the offseason. However, Pionk and Copp are going to eat up close to half of that for sure. This will put the Jets roster size at 15 without anyone making the jump from the AHL to NHL. Which doesn’t leave the Jets with much cap space to try to lure in some help on the defensive end. Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to get creative with the cap to bolster his blue line.
Major Likely Departures
Paul Stastny had his second stint with the Jets this past season and played fairly well scoring 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points in 56 games. Stastny was acquired in October to help shore up the centre depth for the Jets prior to the 2020-21 season. However, with the trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois during the regular season, the Jets now have a solid group of centres moving forward. It would be surprising to see Cheveldayoff use his cap space to bring back the 35-year-old forward.
After completing his seventh season with the Jets organization, it seems like Perreault’s time with the club is coming to an end. At 33 years old, Perreault’s best years are behind him. He’s failed to reach 20 points in the past two seasons. Mind you 2019-20 was an injury-plagued season that was cut short and 2020-21 was a shortened season as well. However, with cap space being limited, the club will likely let the longtime Jet walk in the offseason.
While the Jets would love to keep Appleton, he’s very likely going to be a casualty of the Seattle expansion draft. The 25-year-old forward just completed his first full season with the Jets despite appearing in a total of 138 games over the last three years. Appleton scored 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points in 56 games this past season. He also recorded one goal and two assists in eight playoff games. It will be a big loss for the Jets, as Appleton is a solid depth piece who will earn just $900,000 next season. A cheaper contract the Jets surely need.
Major Likely Re-Signings
Laurent Brossoit has been a solid number two to Connor Hellebuyck for the last three seasons. During the 2020-21 season, Brossoit posted a 6-6 record with a goals-against-average of 2.42 and save percentage of .918. He also recorded one shutout for the Jets. Backup goaltenders are becoming more important nowadays and the production from Brossoit sits him amongst the best. He will certainly be brought back by the Jets.
Neal Pionk had another solid year for the Winnipeg Jets this past season. After setting a new career-high in points with the team during the 2019-20 season, Pionk followed it up with three goals and 29 assists for 32 points in 54 games. While his points per game number was slightly down, he still led all Jets defencemen in points. Pionk’s play proved naysayers wrong when the Jets acquired him in the trade for Jacob Trouba. Pionk proved he can be a very valuable defenceman and will be due a nice raise this offseason. Evolving-hockey.com projects Pionk to a sign a four-year deal with a cap hit of $6.005 million per season.
Andrew Copp had his best offensive season to date, despite it being a shortened season. Copp scored 15 goals and added 24 assists for 39 points in 55 games. At just 26 years old, Copp is just entering the prime of his career. He should be able to beat those new career highs in an 82 game season. Especially if he get to play regularly in the top six. Evolving-hockey.com projects Copp to receive a four-year deal with a cap hit of $4.988 million per season.
Potential Free Agent Additions
With the Winnipeg Jets desperate need to improve their defence group this offseason, one potential target for the Jets would be free agent defenceman Alec Martinez. Martinez put together his best season to date, scoring nine goals and 23 assists for 32 points in 53 games. The exact same production of Neal Pionk, who led the Jets defence in points. Martinez also scored four goals and two assists in 19 playoffs games this season, despite playing the entire playoffs with a broken foot. Martinez would drastically improve the Jets defence and should be a prime target for Cheveldayoff in the offseason.