Since moving back to Winnipeg the Jets have been a budget team: they are well under the cap because they have an internal budget that they abide by. Could this policy make it harder for the Jets to become competitive in the coming seasons? Possibly.
The Winnipeg Jets are nearing the point where very good young players will need new contracts and will become much more highly paid than they already are. A player like Jacob Trouba will surely command more money than Dustin Byfuglien’s $7.6 million/year contract. Josh Morrissey will be coming off of his entry-level contract at the same time. Morrissey’s excellent rookie season means he should be projected for a raise as well, but probably more in line with Trouba’s current $2.8 million cap hit. This does not even include the forwards where Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine are going to need new contracts over the next two seasons. What should the Jets do?
To start off, they should look at getting rid of dead weight like Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart when their contracts are up: those players take up roster spots when younger players could fill them at a reduced rate. If the club wants them around for culture reasons they can hire them in an off-ice capacity. The second thing the team should do is explore trading Tobias Enstrom during the season if the Jets are not in playoff contention. He struggled at times last year and because he is over 30 could very easily be in decline. Trading him around the deadline and getting assets for him would be an excellent management decision. Finally, there might have to be a discussion about raising the internal budget just a bit to keep as many good players as possible. A team that features Trouba, Morrissey, Laine, Ehlers, and Mark Scheifele is a lot better than a team that only features some of those players. Yes, Blake Wheeler and Byfuglien are important, but they are older and the Jets should want to keep their excellent young players if it is possible.
The Jets might have to make some decisions because they have an internal budget, but if they look at the roster as a whole they should be able to keep the good, young players and a few crafty vets to help the team finally improve in the standings. Is the Jets front office up to the job?