Although he is often cited by fans as the Jets player with the “worst” contract, Bryan Little has been a consistent. For the last two seasons he has scored 43 and 41 points, fluctuating between the team’s second and third lines, while playing with a variety of line mates. His points per game production for the last two seasons is .51, down considerably from his peak seasons with Jets when he hovered around .76. Age, injuries and his position in the line up have all contributed to this decline.
Because of his relatively high cap hit, and his inability to cement the second line center status, Little at times is unfairly criticized by fans. His biggest failing has been that he has not been able to elevate the games of either Patrik Laine or Nikolaj Ehlers when playing with them. This has led to Kevin Cheveldayoff making hail Mary deals each of the last two trade deadlines for what we hoped would be a true second line center. One worked out temporarily, one did not work out at all, and both players are no longer Jets.
Little’s value to the team continues to be his flexibility, defensive responsibility and willingness to play up and down the line up. At 31 years old with a salary of approximately $5 million per season for the next four years, I’m not sure Little is a player the Jets can afford to keep for the duration of his contract. He has a no movement clause which converts to modified no trade clause in 2020-21, so it’s unlikely we’ll bid him adieu any time soon. There are also rumblings that Little may be exposed in the expansion draft for the new Seattle franchise. For now, perhaps we need to view him as a solid veteran, bottom six forward who does contribute to the team, versus a potential second line centre.
Little does not have good possession numbers like quite a few players on the Jets. His possession numbers line up with his linemates for a majority of the season with Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. It might be a symptom of the entire line being ill-suited for each other because none of them found success together. This might actually be the biggest issue with Little: he is not compatible with the other players on the Jets second line. It’s not on him to fix, but he definitely does not fit well there.
Little is not as bad as some would have you believe, but because he does not meld well with his linemates things can seem worse than they are. The Jets do need to figure out their long term plans with their second line and start putting them into action even if that means trading Little.