Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2022 summer series, exploring the best and worst free agent signings for each NHL team of the post-lockout, salary cap era. With this past offseason seeing some big splashes (and potential gambles) like Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, John Klingberg, and others, it’s time to take a look at how teams have boosted and stunted their progress in recent history. Today, we take a look at the Winnipeg Jets free agent signings history.
Winnipeg Jets Free Agent Hits and Misses
Just a small piece of history to remember here. The Winnipeg Jets were the Atlanta Thrashers until 2011. So some of the players named in this article will have only played for the Thrashers but will still count as either the best or worst Winnipeg Jets free agent signings.
Best Signing: Maxim Afinogenov
RT @BenThrashers: Maxim Afinogenov will be coming into Thrashers camp on a tryout basis. Could play as early as Monday’s preseason game.
— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) September 17, 2009
Maxim Afinogenov joined the (then) Atlanta Thrashers on a PTO in 2009. Afinogenov earned a one-year contract from the Thrashers for $800,000 after a solid training camp with the club. Before joining the Thrashers, Afinogenov had two disappointing seasons with the Sabres before becoming a free agent. There was a thought that he may return to play in his native Russia. The Thrashers, however, were able to secure Afinogenov on a low-cost deal that worked out very well for both parties.
After scoring 16 goals and 48 points in his last two injury-plagued years in Buffalo, Afinogenov finished second in team scoring with 24 goals and 61 points. He also played in all 82 games for the Thrashers. This was Afinogenov’s last stint in the NHL, however. Despite efforts to re-sign him, Afinogenov decided to play in the KHL the following year. Still, the production the Thrashers received off of a PTO, even for only one year, is why this is the best of all the Winnipeg Jets free agent signings.
Honourable Mention: Kyle Wellwood
The Jets signed Kyle Wellwood to a one-year $700,000 contract in 2011. Wellwood responded with a career year. He matched his career-best with 18 goals and set a career-high with 47 points. His 47 points were good for 5th in team scoring. Again, the Jets struck gold with a great value contract. The Jets rewarded Wellwood with a contract extension.
Worst Signing: Olli Jokinen
— National Post (@nationalpost) July 3, 2012
The Jets signed Olli Jokinen to a two-year $9 million dollar contract in 2012. Jokinen was coming off a strong season with the Calgary Flames. He scored 23 goals and 61 points with the Flames. It breathed new life into Jokinen’s career. The Jets were hoping Jokinen would continue his strong play and give them a legitimate second-line centre.
Unfortunately, Jokinen could not reproduce the offensive output he displayed with Calgary. In the lockout-shortened 2012 season, Jokinen only scored seven goals and 14 points. While his game improved the following season, with 18 goals and 43 points, he was passed in the Jets depth chart by Mark Scheifele and Bryan Little. Needless to say, the Jets were hoping to get more out of Jokinen based on the contract they gave him. He ended up being the worst of all the Winnipeg Jets free agent signings.
Honourable Mention: Steve Mason
Steve Mason signed a two-year $8.3 million dollar contract with the Jets in 2017. Mason had a solid if unspectacular career to this point. Still, he won the Calder Trophy in 2007 and made over 50 starts in seven of his nine seasons to this point.
The Jets did have an emerging Connor Hellebuyck in nets but they wanted a solid veteran backup to take some pressure off. Unfortunately, the contract the Jets signed Mason to became an issue. Mason only appeared in 13 games for the Jets in 2017-18 and posted a 5-6-1 record with a 3.24 GAA and a .906 save percentage. Mason did not provide the Jets with what they were expecting when they signed him.
With several key players needing to be re-signed, the Jets needed to clear salary cap space. They ended up trading Steve Mason to the Montreal Canadiens. The trade did cost the Jets Joel Armia and a couple of draft picks to ensure the Habs would take on the Mason contract. The Canadiens then bought out the remainder of Mason’s contract all but ending his NHL career.
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