Jets Have Decisions to Make About 7 Pending UFAs

The Winnipeg Jets have seven pending unrestricted free agents, six forwards, and one goalie. Each comes with a varying chance of re-signing with the Jets this summer. Here, we’ll take a look at each.

Adam Brooks

The Jets added Brooks off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs in mid-February to bolster their forward depth in the wake of injuries to Andrew Copp and Cole Perfetti. It was the fourth time the 25-year-old centre/left winger was claimed off waivers in the 2021-22 season.

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Brooks, a native Winnipegger, had limited impact in 14 games. He pulled fourth-line duty when injuries arose, recording zero points and averaging 7:28 of ice time.

Adam Brooks Winnipeg Jets
Adam Brooks, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the number of versatile prospects the Jets already have under contract for next season — Morgan Barron, David Gustafsson, Kristian Reichel — and the RFA forwards they may re-sign — Jansen Harkins, Jeff Malott, and Kristian Vesalainen, among others — it is unlikely Brooks will be back with the Jets for 2022-23, and likelier he moves on to his fifth organization in a single calendar year.

Luke Johnson

The Jets signed Luke Johnson to a one-year, two-way deal last July, with the idea he may be a bottom-six option. Johnson, 26, came into the season having played 32-career NHL games between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild, recording two points, and 243-career AHL games between the Rockford IceHogs and Iowa Wild, recording 110 points.

Johnson was limited to 23 games with the Manitoba Moose this season and missed two-and-a-half months between late October and mid-January with an injury. He was decently productive when in the farm club’s lineup, recording 10 regular-season points and four playoff points in five games.

It’s possible the Jets offer him a “do-over” and sign him to another low-risk one-year deal this offseason, but as mentioned above, they already have plenty of younger and higher-profile prospects up front.

Austin Poganski

Poganski played 16 games for the Jets in a fourth-line role through January and February. He recorded no points, nine shots, seven penalty minutes, a minus-3 rating, and an ATOI of 9:19.

The right-winger was productive for the Moose, recording nine goals and 21 assists for 30 points in 49 games and finishing 5th among forwards in scoring.

Poganski, 25, came into the season with six NHL games under his belt with the St. Louis Blues organization and was an offseason depth addition.

Like Brooks and Johnson, he wouldn’t be on top of the call-up list if he were to re-sign and at 26, has arguably aged out of “prospect” status. As a first time UFA, he could seek out a team he believes has space for him on an NHL roster.

Zach Sanford

Zach Sanford came to the Jets when they still had an outside chance in the Western Conference Wild Card race, being acquired from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a fifth-round pick at the Trade Deadline.

The 27-year-old winger was given plenty of opportunity in what could be considered an extended tryout, often playing on the top six and the power play.

Zach Sanford Winnipeg Jets
Zach Sanford, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Overall, the big-bodied Sanford was no replacement for the departed Andrew Copp and had decidedly less impact than expected. While he dished out 38 hits, he recorded zero goals and four assists in 18 games. (He did hit a couple of posts in back-to-back games.)

It’s hard to see where Sanford would fit in next season with Barron, Gustafsson, Perfetti, and Reichel — all younger and with higher ceilings — in the mix. It’s most likely the Jets let him walk.

Paul Stastny

The Jets and Paul Stastny just cannot seem to quit each other. Could their relationship extend yet another season?

Most thought they would have broken up by now, as he was considered one of the assets the Jets would likely divest of at the Trade Deadline.

Others thought the relationship would be just a one-season fling. The Jets acquired him from the Vegas Golden Knights prior to 2020-21 with the intention of deploying him between Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine — reuniting a dynamite line from his first stint in 2018 — but it was generally seen as a stop-gap measure.

Paul Stastny Winnipeg Jets
Paul Stastny, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, after Stastny played out the 2021-22 season on the last year of the three-year deal the Jets inherited from the Golden Knights, the Jets re-signed him to a one-year contract worth $3.75 million.

That turned out to be a smart move as the 36-year-old turned back the clock and produced nicely. He had 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points and hit the 20-goal plateau for the first since 2013-2014.

While other teams might not be too interested in the veteran — Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said he didn’t get many calls about him at the Trade Deadline and seemed to know early on there wasn’t going to be a trade fit — the True North organization appreciates his value.

He is an outspoken leader and a versatile player who accepts any assignment — top or bottom six, centre or wing — without complaint. He gives his all. He provides a perspective only someone with nearly 1100 NHL games under his belt can. Maybe, just maybe, Stastny being a Jet until retirement is the best thing for both sides.

Winnipeg Jets Kyle Connor celebrates with Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Paul Stastny, and Josh Morrissey
Winnipeg Jets Kyle Connor celebrates with Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Paul Stastny, and Josh Morrissey (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

He has spoken in the past how much he enjoys being a member of the franchise, and the franchise obviously enjoys having him too, as they’ve traded for him twice.

A new one- or two-year contract would have to come at the right price given the salary cap is only rising $1 million to $82.5 million. With the Jets’ leadership under Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele questionable, the type of presence Stastny brings on the ice and off might be too valuable to part with.

CJ Suess

Suess has become one of the longest-tenured Moose and is part of the leadership core, having played in 166 over five seasons with the club.

He played three games for the Jets this season, before missing nearly two months with a broken hand he suffered blocking a shot in January in a game against the Detroit Red Wings. With the Moose, he recorded 14 goals and 14 assists in 46 games and showcased impressive net-driving skills, speed, and playmaking prowess.

While at 28 years old, Suess may never be an NHL regular, dedicated players such as him are important to every organization. Aside from helping an AHL team win, relative veterans such as Suess are important off the ice, as they can help rookies and youngsters adapt to the new realities life as professional hockey player brings.

Suess is coming off a two-year, two-way contract he signed in October, 2020. Look for the Jets to offer Suess a similar deal to keep doing what he’s been doing.

Eric Comrie

Second-string goaltender Eric Comrie will be a Group 6 UFA this summer. As per CapFriendly, a goalie becomes a Group 6 UFA if they are 25 or older, have completed 3 or more professional seasons, have a contract expiring, and have fewer than 28 NHL games with more than 30 minutes of ice time.  

The Jets gambled by going with the inexperienced 26-year-old as Connor Hellebuyck’s backup, but the gamble paid off. Although the Jets overworked Hellebuyck terribly — and paid a big price for doing so during the Western Conference Wild Card chase — Comrie was excellent in the too-few times he took the crease.

Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In 16 starts and 19 total appearances, Comrie showed he was capable of translating his hard work in practice into game-day results. He was 10-5-1, had a 2.58 GAA, and a .920 SV%. He had a five-game winning streak going at one point and recorded his first-career shutout on April 27.

It is hard to say whether Comrie will be back, considering the Jets’ brass obviously doesn’t trust him or they’d have played him more and not run Hellebuyck so ragged. One would like to think they’d re-sign him if he were to be available for just $750,000 again, but with his strong showing this season, he may request a raise or get courted by other teams.

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