Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien are both up for contract extensions as of July first of this year. Neither player has signed yet, but the Winnipeg Jets are negotiating with both parties. Whether they decide to keep both players or not is up in the air right now. The decision that they make could have long-term ramifications on the team's path and cap situation going forward.
Since trading Evander Kane, the Winnipeg Jets look thin with scoring wingers at the NHL level. They do have good forward prospects who can play wing, but prospects are not certainties and while some are bound to succeed, counting on them to replace a proven NHL scorer as a rookie is a dangerous game. And it is one that the Jets could be playing if they do not come up with a succession plan for Ladd leaving at some point.
The Jets are better prepared for the Byfuglien to leave if his contract demands are too rich. They have stocked up on right-side playing defencemen who are capable of playing big minutes; most namely Jacob Trouba. The Jets have built up an artillery of right-side defencemen and can handle the loss of Byfuglien, even though he is superior to Tyler Myers and Paul Postma. Salary cap and budget space is valuable in some cases.
Salary Cap/Team Budget
It is known that the Winnipeg Jets are a budget team and not a salary cap team. This means that while they may have lots of cap space, they may not have all that much money left to be spent on key players like Trouba and Mark Schiefele. Adam Lowry is also up for a contract next summer and the Jets are going to have to deal with all three players getting raises.This adds a bit of a road block into deciding who to keep out of the two pending unrestricted free agents.
The Jets may be prudent in negotiating with Trouba and Scheifele first to get an idea of how much money will have to go to the younger players, who tend to be better value for their contracts. If the Jets decide that they want to build around Trouba and Scheifele (and they should), the Jets would be smart to find out how much they will be paying them for the years to come.
Both Ladd and Byfuglien are no longer young players in the NHL. They are either 30 years old or approaching it. 30 seems to be the age where forwards start to fall off a bit, unless they are the mythical Marian Hossa or the truly bizarre Radim Vrbata. Ladd will probably be good value for at least two more seasons after next season, if he is signed to a reasonable contract. The key is reasonable though. Long-term or too big of money could put the Jets in a hard spot, especially with the salary cap not going up as quickly as predicted.
Byfuglien is harder to gage as he is a unique player. He has played forward for long spans of his career and has been an elite scoring defencemen for other spans. Byfuglien's play on the blue line last season is not sustainable and might make him more valuable to the Jets as a trade asset than as a long-term player. It may hurt the Jets in the short-term, but getting Trouba into the number one position on defence and pushing Myers down, while having Paul Postma play every game may be smart from a development stand point.
The Winnipeg Jets are at a crossroads when it comes to two key players. They have to decide which direction they want to the team to go in and in doing so could cause ramifications for players down the road. The direction of the Jets lies in the fates of two aging players. The Jets need to figure out soon what their future holds so they can start preparing for it.