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The Winnipeg Jets have cleared some much-needed salary cap space by swinging a big Saturday morning trade.
Goalie Steve Mason and forward Joel Armia were both dealt to the Montreal Canadiens, along with a 7th round pick in the 2019 draft and a 4th round pick in the 2020 draft. In exchange, the Jets get defenceman defenceman Simon Bourque while clearing more than $5 million off their books.
And that opens the door for the Jets to take a legitimate run at re-signing veteran centre Paul Stastny. It’s no secret there is mutual interest from both parties, but finding a way to make it happen under the cap was always going to be a challenge. Suddenly that window of opportunity just got a whole lot bigger.
Mason, 30, was set to make $4.1 million next season, while Armia, 25, was a pending restricted free agent who made $925,000 and was due for a raise.
Of course, moving Mason now means the Jets will be in the market come July 1 for a less-expensive free agent backup to Connor Hellebuyck. With Mason gone, the Jets are suddenly quite thin in terms of organizational depth in net, especially since they allowed goalie Jamie Phillips to move on earlier this week by not qualifying him, and are not expected to re-sign pending UFA Michael Hutchinson.
That means Eric Comrie and rookie Mikhail Berdin are suddenly No. 2 and No. 3 on the depth chart. For now, anyways.
Mason struggled to carve out a role last year with the Jets, suffering numerous injuries and appearing in just 13 games. He went 5-6-1 with a 3.24 GAA and .906 SV%. Armia is coming off a career year in terms of offence, scoring 12 goals and adding 17 assists in 79 regular-season games. He also had two goals in 13 playoff games. Winnipeg had acquired Armia in 2015 as part of the multi-player trade with Buffalo that sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to the Sabres.
Montreal was clearly targeting Armia but had to agree to take on Mason’s salary in order to get him. The draft picks thrown in by Winnipeg were meant to sweeten the pot. There are already reports out of Montreal that they don’t plan to keep Mason for next season, but will now try to either trade him or buy out the remaining year on his contract.
Bourque, the player coming back to Winnipeg, is considered AHL depth. The 21-year-old left-shooting defenceman had three assists in 46 games with Montreal’s farm team in Laval last season. That was his rookie campaign after several years in the QMJHL with Rimouski and Saint John. He was a 6th round pick, 177th overall, by Montreal in the 2015 draft.
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.