The Winnipeg Jets are entering a salary cap crunch and the reasons why they are is layered. However, there is one reason that stands out that is rarely talked about: the overpayment of great veterans who are a big part of the team. Players like Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler are good players who help the team, but the contracts they are signed to have the real possibility of becoming albatrosses because the players are in decline and at some point will not produce the same way they do now.
We are already seeing the decline of Wheeler and it happened at even-strength this year. It might stagnant or it might get worse, but at some point we will have to confront the fact that Wheeler is not the player he used to be and while he did turn around his ability to drive play, that is also in decline and the Jets will never get fair value for his contract. His new contract is five years and pays him $8.25 million a season. That means he is going to be paid that much until he is 37. Now, Wheeler’s career trajectory is a little different than most players, but he will have to drop off soon unless he is Jaromir Jagr and it appears he already is declining.
As for Byfuglien; he is still a force of nature, but it seems like his body is starting to break down as ones body does as they get older. In Byfuglien’s case, this means playing 69 and 42 games respectively in the past two seasons. Thankfully, his big contract is only for two more years and the Jets can work around his cap hit by bridging a player or two. When healthy, Byfuglien also makes a bigger impact overall than Wheeler does. He solidifies the defence and gives the Jets a big minute eater.
It is not only Byfuglien and Wheeler who have contracts that are eating into the cap more than the player helps the team, but Bryan Little’s contract is also questionable. It pays him more than $5 million/season until the 2023-2024 season. While Little was better this year, it is hard to justify the term of his contract and the fact that while he produced 41 points in 82 games. That is borderline second line production and definitely not someone who should be making the money he is making.
The Winnipeg Jets are a good team and will remain a good team. They have quite a few good young players who will be up for raises within the next couple of summers. It is hard to comprehend how the current way of expecting young players to take less than the market dictates they are worth, so that older players can be paid more than they are producing for the team. This could be the first summer where we see the Jets have to make some tough decisions because of the salary cap and already awarded contracts. The consequences could impact the Jets chances at winning a Stanley Cup in the future.