The Winnipeg Jets have signed veteran forward Blake Wheeler to a five-year contract extension worth $41.25 million that will kick in at the start of the 2019-20 season. This deal will pay Wheeler $8.25 million a season through the 2023-24 season. The 32-year-old Wheeler is entering his 11th season in the NHL with eight-plus of those seasons being spent with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organization.
He’s here for a GOOD TIME and a LONG TIME! 🎉 ⁰
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) September 4, 2018
Wheeler was set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2018-19 season and will now likely get a chance to finish out his career with the Jets franchise. The deal comes with a modified NTC (no trade clause) and no movement clause in all five years of the deal and includes a one-time signing bonus of $4 million in 2019-20 with the rest coming through base salary.
Wheeler entered the league as the fifth-overall selection of the Phoenix Coyotes though he would never end up playing a game with that franchise. Instead, he would make his NHL debut with the Boston Bruins, impressing with 21 goals and 45 points in 81 games in his rookie campaign. Wheeler would eventually be traded to the then-Thrashers franchise in his third season in the league and when the team made the move to Winnipeg, Wheeler began to thrive.
In his time in Winnipeg, Wheeler would become one of the NHL’s most underrated stars. What’s been the most impressive about the Plymouth, Minnesota-native is that he’s seemingly been getting better with age from a point-production standpoint and his leadership is second to none of the team. For that reason, he has been the captain of the team since the 2016-17 season and has seen the team rise from the cellar of the NHL standings to one of the elite forces in the league.
An Interesting Contract for the Jets
For the Jets, this contract is one that should prove to be very polarizing. On one side of the coin, Wheeler is an integral part of the Jets and is crucial to their success. With the team in a position to challenge for the Stanley Cup in the coming years, letting go of Wheeler would have been counter-productive for their short-term goals.
At the same time, signing a player to a contract worth $8.25 million as a season in their age-33 to age-38 seasons is an interesting one that has proven to bite a lot of teams who take that risk. Still, Wheeler is a legitimate superstar in the NHL and has a rare combination of speed, size and skill. Combining those traits with his intelligence on the ice and it’s clear that the Jets are gambling on the right player.
Even if Wheeler doesn’t fall off in the coming years, however, there is still room for concern with the team having a projected cap hit of $52 million next season spent across 11 players. Not included in those 11 players are Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Kyle Connor, however, who will all be looking for new deals before Wheeler’s contract even kicks in.
The Jets and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have done an excellent job at building their roster in recent years. Keeping the team together during these Cup-contending years will be the next test.