Two of the most integral Winnipeg Jets are slated to become Free Agents after this 2015-2016 season. Both Jets captain Andrew Ladd and All-Star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien have contracts that are set to expire, and both are deserving of a hefty raise. The off-season is coming to a close and as training camp approaches, both players are left without a deal.
Five years after relocating from Atlanta, the Winnipeg Jets identity is starting to take shape. It seems as though the core which will (hopefully) be leading them to a chance at Lord Stanley's Cup will be a crew formed by the likes of Mark Scheifele, Nik Ehlers and Jacob Trouba, rather than the current veterans of Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien. The Jets are focused on building around the younger core, looking to integrate young blood into the lineup and have them take hold of the team over time.
So when the decision arises of whether to sign Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien to long-term contract extensions, a problem arises. By signing both Ladd and Byfuglien to long-term extensions, Chevy could create shackling cap and budgetary issues. If all goes well development-wise, big dollars will need to be spent on future deals for Ehlers, Scheifele and Trouba.
I believe it's time for the Jets to choose between Ladd and Byfuglien. Ladd is likely to command a contract with an annual cap hit of around 6+ million dollars, while Byfuglien could haul in a contract with an AAV of 7-7.5 million. A budget team like the Jets can't afford to have roughly 13 million dollars allocated to two veteran players that are nearing the end of their primes. But then again, the Jets don't want to clean house on all their veterans, so keeping one of the two would be the right course of action. This decision is not a matter of who the better individual player is, but rather who better fits the team long-term.
The Jets should lock up their captain Andrew Ladd, and trade away Dustin Byfuglien.
When Dustin Byfuglien is smart, by all means he can be a game changer for the Jets. Last season, in December and January, Byfuglien was electric. Big Buff's name was even being thrown around the Norris Trophy race (see: #BuffNorris). When Byfuglien is on the top of his game, he is the Jets' best player and one of the best defencemen in the league. But when Byfuglien struggles, he struggles mightily. Byfuglien can make irrational, poor decisions which lead to the team suffering, and it sometimes makes one wonder if the Jets might fare better without Big Buff.
Trading Byfuglien could bring back an attractive package. Someone will trade for Byfuglien and give him the money that he wants because of the unique element and versatility that he brings to a team. At its most potent sales pitch, acquiring Byfuglien is like getting two players: you are adding both an offensive defenceman and a strong power forward. But wherever you play Byfuglien, one thing's for sure: you are going to get a powerful physical force. A lot of teams are going to bid on a player like that. The Jets could find themselves receiving a package of "A level" prospects and high quality draft picks in return, exactly the kind of assets the Jets want.
Another reason to move Byfuglien would be to make more room on the back end. With the way that players such as Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey are progressing, it could be their time to embrace a bigger role with the club. That can't be done if Byfuglien remains with the team and continues to log 25+ minutes a night.
Looking at the other side of this decision, there are a few reasons why it would be smart for the Jets to retain Ladd. Ladd has served as the Jets' captain since the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg (and for a year in Atlanta prior), and he has led by example while wearing the "C". The two-time Stanley Cup winner is a valuable locker room presence for the Jets, especially with the team going through a youth movement. Andrew Ladd has served as a great captain for the Winnipeg Jets; there is no point in changing that.
The Jets should figure out what they are going to do with Ladd and Byfuglien before the season starts. If the Winnipeg braintrust decides to trade Byfuglien, it would make more sense to do it before the season, rather than waiting until the deadline and potentially shipping Byfuglien off in the midst of a playoff run.
It is time. Get the best value out of the inconsistent Byfuglien and keep the Captain.