While some fan bases are enjoying playoff games and the quest for Lord Stanley's drinking glass, contracting season is in full bloom in Winniepg. The Winnipeg Jets have a boat load of free agents. Some are vital, others not so much. Regardless, Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is in for a busy summer of contract negotiations and - if history repeats itself - probably some mud slinging.
Yep. Mud slinging seems to be a big part of contract negotiations in Winnipeg.
Kevin Cheveldayoff is only two years into his tenure as the General Manager of the Winnipeg Jets, but he has already handled a few high profile contract negotiations. This will be more of the same, although Chevy will have far more on his plate than he has to date.
This year Cheveldayoff has to make decisions about some of his draft picks. Zach Yuen and Austen Brassard were drafted along side Mark Scheifele in 2011. Both players have played out their junior eligibility and need to be signed by June 1st or the Jets lose their contracting rights. These players are likely priory number one if for no reason other than the time crunch.
There is also a fresh batch of Unrestricted Free Agents that Cheveldayoff has to talk to. Players like "Cutie Pie" Kyle Wellwood, "the Loveable" Ron Hainsey, and "His Last Name Has 'Clit" in it" Grant Clitsome. They are Jets' property for now, but not for long. If Chevy has intentions of bringing any of them back, talking now makes free agency easier.
And of course there are the RFAs. This is where the fun stuff happens. While re-signing these players is generally a big priority, there is no real to rush. Restricted Free Agents are Jets property and will remain Jets property with or without a signed contract. These players have a limited negotiation platform and negotiations can drag out and sometimes get ugly.
Let's tale a look back at some of the RFA contract negotiations that have already taken place in Winnipeg:
From the outside, this appears to have been Cheveldayoff's smoothest major RFA contract negotiation to date. Chevy wanted to lock up the team's captain, Andrew Ladd wanted to put his best foot forward in a new city and the two met on a deal that was looked upon as fair. Granted, it looks like a bargain now given Ladd's recent offensive explosion. The interesting thing here is that this was also the only major RFA signing that ended quickly and without a whole bunch of public drama.
This was another deal that was negotiated before the Jets first took to the ice in Winnipeg. This contract also went right down to the wire and some Winnipegers didn't handle it well. There was speculation that Bogosian did not want to sign in Winnipeg. In the end it appears both sides were holding out over money - Bogosian said as much publicly - but who knew what was happening behind the scenes. Without being in the room it is hard to figure what was gained or lost on the money front, but this deal definitely speaks to the timelines of RFA deals.
Winnipeg Jets fans know Zach Bogosian to be a beastly physical shutdown D man, but he was far from that when he signed this deal. After 3 seasons with Atlanta, Zach had accumulated a minus-34 rating and he was minus-27 on the last year of his ELC. Many in Atlanta were frustrated and worried that he was a busted pick.
Turns out a two year bridge (OR show and prove) deal was exactly what he needed. I wonder if there is something that can be learned from this? I wonder if there are any other 21 year old Jet hockey players that have yet to hit their peak?
Oh, Ondrej. How do I do this without getting into another shot quality debate? At the time of the signing Ondrej Pavelec had shown that he had special physical attributes, but it was clear that he hadn't figured out how to put it all together. There were also a number of comparable goalies up for similar renewals. All of these goalies had posted better numbers than Pavelec and some were also scouted as flat out better (Rask, Scnheider) but Pavelec got the fattest stack of cash. Why?
Oh yes. It was Allan Walsh and that whole, "pay me or I'm going to the KHL" thing. This deal was all about manufactured leverage and very public threats. Up to that point Ondrej Pavelec had been a mediocre goalie with bad numbers. He didn't have a leg to stand on - even if the negotiations went to arbitration - so his agent made threats and those threats netted Pavelec a deal that was well beyond his market value AND he got it as an RFA. Cheveldayoff played some games of his own by trading for Jonas Gustavsson's contracting rights, but Pavelec and Walsh got the money they wanted. It is really hard to call this deal a win for Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Evander Kane is always making headlines and things were no different while his agent was negotiating his new deal. This negotiation became very public. Reports leaked from both Saskatchewan and Quebec stating that Kane wanted nothing to do with Winnipeg. From the team side, contract details were leaked as well as threats that Kane should "take it or leave it".
Once again, due to the nature of his contract status, Kane had very limited leverage. Problem here was that the team was also a little shy on leverage. Kane is the kind of piece that a team HAS TO sign. He was a top 4 draft pick and he will be a cornerstone of the team moving forward. Is this what drove both sides to negotiate through the media? Perhaps they took notes on what Allan Walsh did for Ondrej Pavelec. One way or another Kane and company got more money than reports suggested they ever would. Did taking talks public amount to a win for either side? I am betting it probably did for Evander Kane.
The Here And Now
This brings us back to this year's RFA batch of Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and, of course, Alexander Burmistrov. Alex Burmistrov's contract negotiations have already gone public. Did this start with Mark Gandler? Did it start with the team? Is there any real merit to it? Is it a smoke screen? Who knows.
Here is what we do know:
- At the trade deadline there were reports that either a) Alex Burmistrov was being shopped or b) Alex Burmistrov had asked to be traded.
- Also at the deadline a source told Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press that Alex Burmistrov had not asked for a trade.
- After the trade deadline other writers / hockey types went directly to Alexander Burmistrov and Burmistrov said he was relieved to stay.
- Since the deadline Gary Lawless has learned via sources that Alexander Burmistrov did indeed ask to be traded, still wants to be traded and won't re-sign with the Winnipeg Jets.
- The article also implied that the source is not from within the Jets organization.
- Burmistrov says he doesn't know what is going on. His agent says nothing.
- Lawless himself says Burmistrov may be back. He doesn't know for sure.
Doesn't this whole song and dance sound familiar? Are there shades of Kane in play in this one?
Burmistrov is another RFA with very limited leverage; because of this it is entirely possible that Burmistrov and Gandler are blowing smoke. If they are, why not? It has seemingly worked for others in the past. Who knows, it could even be somebody on the team side testing market values. Of course it is entirely possible that the trade talks are legit. Perhaps Burmistrov is legitimately fed up with his coach and wants out. Nobody really knows apart from the parties involved.