When the Winnipeg Jets announced that they signed Blake Wheeler to a five-year, $41 250 000 contract for an AAV of $8.25 million. This was welcomed news as Wheeler was fantastic last year and has been an underrated player in the NHL for a long time. However, it might not be a good contract for the Jets as early as next season.
The Jets have young players moving off of their entry-level contracts and that means they will start to cost a lot more. It has already started with Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey and Morrissey will need another new contract in two years. That does not include Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic, and Kyle Connor as well. The sheer volume of good, young players means that the Jets need to be careful managing their cap to be able include these youngsters for their primes.
A player’s prime is a large part of why we should all be nervous about Wheeler’s contract. There is research that shows players hit their prime around 25. Wheeler will be 33 when his new contract starts. Tyler Dellow went even deeper on The Athletic and showed that Wheeler’s jump in points came on the power play from setting up players like Laine and Dustin Byfuglien. It might not be repeatable year to year. Wheeler has always been a good player, but he has never been this player before and the fact that he exploded offensively at 31 should be a flag that he will be a good player, but he is not the player that last season.
The Winnipeg Jets have to be careful to not fall into the trap of loving their veteran players too much to trade them or let them walk if needed. We saw how they benefitted from not re-signing Andrew Ladd and instead traded him for a package that included Marko Dano and the pick that turned into Logan Stanley. While the Jets wanted to re-sign Ladd for $6 million/season, they benefited from him not signing and he regressed. Are the Jets going to wish that they had waited to re-sign Wheeler? Are they going to get a good return on investment on his next contract or is it going to cause them more salary cap pain?
The Blake Wheeler contract extension should have been a win for the Jets. Wheeler loves Winnipeg and is a good player. However, the Jets extended him after his best season when he was over thirty. This is not a reflection of the player that is was or is and that is a problem that they will have to contend with in a few years as they try to keep their young players on their team. Wheeler is a key piece of the team now, but is he an irreplaceable one? There is no answer, but the Jets are going to be hoping that he manages to be more like Jaromir Jagr than Jarome Iginla as he ages.