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They avoided major surgery this summer, save for a couple minor nips and tucks. But the Winnipeg Jets might not want to put the scalpel and anesthesia away just yet.
Because while the patient may be out of the woods for now, a Code Red could be just around the corner.
Yes, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff managed to get all 10 of his restricted free agents signed to new contracts, along with a five-year extension to captain Blake Wheeler that kicks in next season.
And yes, the Jets still have some salary-cap breathing room this season, with an estimated cap hit currently in the range of US$73 million now that defenceman Josh Morrissey’s situation is resolved. Performance bonuses could bring that to approximately US$77 million, but Winnipeg would still be under the US$79.5-million ceiling and have the ability to add to its lineup later this season.
“Having that flexibility is something that, sitting here today, you don’t know if it’s going to be worth anything or not. But you know one thing, when you don’t have it, you don’t have it. We’ll see if it really is a beneficial thing if opportunities present themselves,” Cheveldayoff said Monday.
However, that could all change next season. And the reality is there’s a good chance a beloved player or two may have to be moved simply to try to keep as much of the core of this group together.
“Well, we’re here. We’re here, we’re starting, we’re ready to go. That’s the first and foremost thing. We got the group of guys ready to go,” Cheveldayoff said when asked to assess how this summer’s deals may impact the future.
Looking down the road, Winnipeg has seven forwards under contract next season in the form of Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry and Jack Roslovic. They’ll combine to make US$33.6 million. If you add Kristian Vesalainen into the mix, his entry-level deal brings that total to eight forwards at US$34.5 million.
The Jets also have four defenceman inked through next season in Morrissey, Dustin Byfuglien, Dmitry Kulikov and Tucker Poolman. Their contracts add up to US$15.8 million.
Add in goalie Connor Hellebuyck and his US$6.1-million deal and that comes to 13 players at US$56.4 million.
Under the current salary cap, that would give Cheveldayoff in the range of US$23 million for 10 more players needed to fill out a 23-man roster.
Three skaters alone could end up eating a massive chunk of that change.
Patrik Laine will need a new deal and could command upwards of US$10 million per season. Kyle Connor’s entry-level contract will have expired, and another big season like his 31-goal rookie campaign could put the pending restricted free agent in the US$6-million range, or possibly higher.
Defenceman Jacob Trouba, awarded US$5.5 million this summer in arbitration, will once again be an RFA. He could also be due a pay raise with a big year, assuming he isn’t moved if a long-term deal once again can’t be struck.
“Bring it on. There’s excitement. That’s what this is all about. This is about excitement. I’m excited about our group. I’m hopeful about our group. I’m passionate about our group. The business will take care of itself,” Cheveldayoff said of how they may end up literally paying for on-ice success.
But unless significant moves are made, that’s not going to leave much cash to get the rest of a team under contract. Andrew Copp and Marko Dano are also pending RFAs at forward, while Brandon Tanev will be an unrestricted free agent. Defenceman Joe Morrow is an RFA on the blueline, while Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot are pending UFAs.
Goalie Laurent Brossoit will also be an RFA.
Looking even further down the road, both Morrissey and Roslovic will need new deals the following year. Both will likely receive major pay hikes.
“I think that’s the new reality at any time. Whether it’s long term, short term, to sit here and say we’re going to do every deal long term or we’re going to do every deal as an extension or we’re going to do every deal as one, there’s lots of mitigating circumstances that come into play on each and every day,” Cheveldayoff said of trying to negotiate deals in a salary-cap era.
“Just understand we’re trying to win and we’re trying to continue winning moving forward.”
No doubt the Jets will be hoping the salary cap takes another big jump next year, as it did this past year in the form of US$4 million.
“At the end of the day, it will be what it will be. Whatever that number is, we’ll adjust accordingly,” said Cheveldayoff, who relies on his previous experience in management with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Central Division rival has been dealing with cap restraints for years now.
“The experience with Chicago, obviously, was a great one. You found a way to build a roster that ultimately wound up winning a championship, but there’s lots of things that go into it when you’re dealing with a cap. There are things we haven’t yet experienced here with the Jets that I had to go through with Chicago, but I think the understanding of the perils that you might be seeing down the road, or we might be seeing down the road, we’re kind of trying to look at it with a very wide lens,” he said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.