Much has been made of the Winnipeg Jets' pending roster freedom. The general consensus seems to be that General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a ton of roster space and money to burn heading into the 2013 Free Agency period. At the time of this writing, the Jets only have $35,675,000MM on the books heading into the 2013-14 regular season. So the mindset from fans and pundits alike is not only will there be room to spend in free agency, but the Jets can also take on some of the bloated salaries that other greedy GMs gave out in the pre-lockout NHL. That is the word, but is it fact or is it fiction?
Based on the numbers a lot of this talk is fiction -- or better yet, fantasy. While it is true that Kyle Wellwood, Antti Miettinen, Nik Antropov, Ron Hainsey and Grant Clitsome all become Unrestricted Free Agents over the summer, Winnipeg's roster size is still rather bloated. Restricted Free Agents the likes of Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler,
Alexander Burmistrov and Zach Bogosian are assets that HAVE TO BE signed and the foursome will likely account for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $15MM in grand total. Of course, any member of that group could be traded (Ed. Note: or banished to the KHL), but for roster purposes, they may as well be under contract.
So we can see how quickly almost $36MM in salary can balloon into $51MM and we aren't done yet.
Defencemen Zach Redmond and Paul Postma are both RFA's who need to be signed as well. There goes an additional $1.5MM. Is either player vital in the long run? Perhaps, but perhaps not -- we can debate their relative value all we want, but the fact remains that they are assets and they will both be retainable on budget-friendly deals.
Next we have centre in Eric O`Dell who is coming off a breakout season with the St. John's IceCaps. He too will be looking for a new deal from his parent club.
Even if the Jets would like to leave him on "The Rock" to allow him further development, Eric will be waiver eligible next year. Winnipeg won’t be able to send him to the St. John’s IceCaps without the risking a waiver claim (Ed.
Note: because of clauses in the CBA pertaining to over-age CHL players, O`Dell is still waiver exempt). Is there a chance he clears after last year’s MVP season with the St. John’s IceCaps? Probably not. O’Dell will likely start with the big club and he may even land himself a 1-Way deal similar to what Postma received last season.
A quick recap:
Winnipeg will have ten forwards, six defencemen and one goalie under contract before Kevin Cheveldayoff even has a chance to put on his thinking cap. This also leaves the Jets with $53.3MM or so committed to the salary cap heading into a season in which the ceiling is only $64.3MM.
Tough decisions: RFAs
We have outlined the players that Winnipeg really have no choice but to keep, but there are a few others that deserve our attention. Eric Tangradi and Anthony Peluso made some noise as depth forwards this year, although neither player can be relied on for scoring touch. It is worth noting that carrying both Peluso and Chris Thorburn would be a little odd for any non-Leafs team, so something has to give there unless Chevy wants to bring back pretty much the exact same group.
Resigning the duo would probably cost Chevy something like $1.4MM. That isn’t big money, but every bit counts. This would bring the Jets to twelve forwards and a little over $54MM.
Note: Again these figures preclude Scheifele and Trouba. In other words, the Jets will have about $10MM in free cap space without them, and about 6.6MM in cap space if they keep them with the big club. There really isn’t a ton of money left for the supposed spending spree.
Not so tough Decisions: UFAs
The roster is getting pretty full and we haven’t even touched on the Jets UFA's. If Winnipeg does indeed retain the twelve forwards listed above, Kyle Wellwood and Nik Antropov are likely done. Of course, either player could figure back into the mix in the place of Tangradi or Thorburn -- who haven’t offered much – but retaining a vet would eat up even more cap space.
On the back end, Cheveldayoff will have to make decisions on Grant Clitsome, Ron Hainsey and Arturs Kulda. Kulda is an RFA who can probably be signed on the cheap, but he has shown less than the two pending UFA's. Would it be worthwhile to bring back Clitsome for $2MM or less or will the pending cap crunch force Chevy to take the cheaper, younger and higher upside option?
Baring a surprise trade (Ed. Note: hello, Devin Setoguchi!) that doesn't involve the Jets eating salary, Winnipeg won’t have much money to blow on the open market. $10MM in caps space (again, $6.6MM if you factor in Trouba and Scheifele) really doesn’t go very far and there is still a requirement to sign a back-up goaltender.
I know Chevy would like to add a second line right wing, but realistically who is available that fits into the Jets’ price point? Could the Jets go into next season with Redmond, Postma, Kulda and Trouba all in the top eight? Should he bring back Clitsome?
Realistically, pending free agents such as Viktor Stalberg, Mason Raymond, David Clarkson and Damien Brunner may be available at a price point that Winnipeg can afford, but outside of maybe Brunner they aren’t really game-breakers. This also leaves the Jets worse off defensively than they were last year. Love them or hate them, Grant Clitsome and Ron Hainsey played top 4 minutes for a good chunk of last year. Does Chevy stand pat defensively and pray that one of the youngsters takes off?
Keep in mind, my projected salaries for the pending RFAs may be lower than the actual cost. If I guessed low, there really won’t be a ton of free money here. How much Chevy can milk out of the remaining cap space ($6.6MM or otherwise) will be the story of the off-season.
So much for the spending spree that everybody has been talking about. Realistically, re-signing somebody like Grant Clitsome and adding a UFA right winger is about all we should expect. Adding a backup goalie like Anton Khudobin or Ray Emery would be amazing, but I can’t see either of them being available cheap enough or being enticed by the idea of playing eight games next year.
Fun with Numbers:
Here is a look at the Winnipeg Jets' salary structure as of July 29, 2013. As you can see, there is not very much wiggle room remaining, and the team still has to mint defenceman Zach Bogosian to a brand new contract. The cap crunch is truly on. Please note that these figures include a multitude of minor league contracts which are not listed on the depth chart.
2013-14 NHL Salary Cap: $64,300,000.00
Winnipeg Jets' current salary payroll: $63,201,357.00
2013-14 Cap Space: $2,323,643.00
|Andrew Ladd ($4.400MM)||Bryan Little ($4.700MM)||Blake Wheeler ($5.600MM)|
|Evander Kane ($5.250MM)||Olli Jokinen ($4.500MM)||Devin Setoguchi ($3.000MM)|
|Eric Tangradi ($675K)||Mark Scheifele ($1.563MM~)||Michael Frolik ($2.333MM)|
|Anthony Peluso ($562K)||Jim Slater ($1.600MM)||Matt Halischuk ($650K)|
|James Wright ($650K)||Chris Thorburn ($866K)|
|Tobias Enstrom ($5.750MM)||Dustin Byfuglien ($5.200MM)|
|Grant Clitsome ($2.066MM)||Zach Bogosian (5.142MM)|
|Mark Stuart ($1.700MM)||Paul Postma ($712K)|
|Adam Pardy ($600K)||Jacob Trouba ($1.827MM~)|
|Zach Redmond ($870K)||Arturs Kulda*|
|Ondrej Pavelec ($3.900MM)|
|Al Montoya ($601K)|
*Denotes player yet to be signed
~Denotes NHL level salary