“On the Beam”…the weekly Winnipeg Jets blog by Geoff Brooks
© Geoff Brookes
For six years now, fans of the Winnipeg Jets have heard the familiar mantras from the Jets’ management:
- “The Winnipeg Jets will make player acquisitions to help them make a deep playoff run, when they are ready to be a contender.”
- “The Jets will spend to the cap, when they are ready to be a contender.”
The Jets are a cap team, as of this moment. (My figures are generally rounded to the nearest million, for reading ease – courtesy of capfriendly.com and NHLnumbers.com).
The cap is $75 M for this 2017-18 year. The Jets have $67 M in cap hits from active player contracts for this year. They take another $1M cap hit for the Mark Stuart buy-out. But they also have another $7M in potential bonuses to players under contract, led by Patrik Laine with $2.65 M in potential bonuses for this year. Total: $75M = the cap! (Not all bonuses will be earned, but most of them are likely to be counted).
Are the Jets a contender?
My last Jets blog (here at www.chuckduboff.com ) says they are!
So, if that means we are in that ethereal “window” for a championship run, does that mean that we can be happy with a modest playoff run this year?
First, let’s be clear – Jets fans (other than guys named either Ryan or Arby) will be ecstatic with any playoff run that includes a victory. A playoff victory at home will have people imitating medieval warriors, with stick-shaped spears and Robert-the-Bruce face paint.
But how long is the “window”? Can we be that patient? Will the window disappear quickly, as if it was an old black and white TV Twilight Zone special effect?
The recent spate of massive RFA contracts spells trouble for the Winnipeg Jets. (Yes, it’s those confounded Oilers ruining our Jets fun, once again!)
Why should big RFA contracts matter to the Jets? Don’t the Jets have the player contracts under control? Aren’t they all locked up long term, like Mark Scheifele?
It’s actually much easier to say which Jets don’t have expiring contracts during the next two years – Scheifele, Perreault, Byfuglien and Kulikov. Oh, and Jack Roslovic, who has only played 1 game in the NHL so far.
A lot of the Jets with expiring contracts would still be RFA’s, but since the RFA’s are also starting to get monster NHL salaries, Jets like Trouba, Ehlers and Laine could be getting massive raises.
And the nominees for best new contract for a pending free agent are (the envelope, please) :
To be renegotiated by July 1, 2018 (less than a year away):
Oh, and Trouba and Helly will have arbitration rights.
To be clear – that’s eleven contracts that must be renegotiated in the next year.
On July 1, 2019, the pending free agents are:
Laine (RFA) (!)
Kyle Connor (RFA)
That’s seven more contracts!
That’s a total of EIGHTEEN contracts within 2 years, that must be renegotiated!
Is this a problem?
(Hint – players’ salaries go up, not down).
And then there’s the cap.
The salary cap is only going up by $2 million each year, and only because the players are exercising the escalation clause. If the Canuck Buck goes to par with the US dollar again, the cap might take a jump… (and I might just win the lottery next week).
Clearly, there isn’t “much” room for the Jets to move!
So – what does this mean for the Jets?
- Win now, while the kids are young, and cheap. It’s “go time”, Pomo and Chevy! It’s big Buff or bust! The Chicago Black Hawks won their first of 3 recent Stanley Cups with both Toews and Kane still on their entry level contracts, and the Jets need to try to imitate that early Hawks’ success. We all know what kind of incredible gyrations the Hawks have gone through to stay competitive, and cap compliant, since they won their first modern Cup.
- For that matter, Chevy knows that best of all, from his experience managing the Hawks’ cap.2.The Jets need younger, cheaper players to come on board each season. For example, Sammy Niku could theoretically replace Tobias Enstrom, at a much lower salary. The Jets must make tough choices like this, in order to make the cap space work. (See #1 above – “Win Now”).
- For the 2018-19 season, some players might need to be traded, in order to free up cap space. Older, popular, effective players might need to be traded (or allowed to go UFA) in order to free up cap space. (See #1 above – “Win Now”).
- If a forward isn’t playing on the top 6, he must be inexpensive. Players like Shawn Matthias cannot be making $2.125 M playing fourth line minutes. (See #1 above – “Win Now”).
- Win now.
This current 2017-18 roster could be the best that the Jets will have in this era. The potential future improvements must come from younger players (i.e. current Jets prospects) replacing older, more expensive players.
Is it possible to do this?
Maybe. After this year, it will come down to making wise, budget-friendly roster choices. This is where the “develop” (as in “draft and develop”) becomes mission-critical. In addition to Roslovic and Connor, other prospects need to become quality NHL players, at reasonable contracts (initially, anyway). We can’t be sure whether it’s going to be Lemieux or Appleton, Niku or Stanley, but the Jets will need these young, inexpensive players to effectively fill out their roster. Some expensive veterans will have to move on.
Is there a miracle cure on the horizon?
Maybe – just maybe …
As much as this will bring a shudder to hockey fans, the Jets salvation could be the next contract that the NHL and the players’ association hammer out. If, instead of another $2 million cap increase, a new CBA results in a double digit percentage increase in the salary cap, it could actually provide the cap space that the Jets would need to keep most of their core players under contract.
And the new CBA is probably not as far away as you might think – having suffered through a work stoppage that doesn’t seem so far away in time.
The NHLPA (and the NHL) have the option to terminate the current CBA as early as September 2020 – just 3 years from now.
If the Jets can find a way to keep the current core together for the next 3 years, they just might get the spending boost they would need to keep it going for a few more years after that.
If… the Jets can get a few RFA bridge deals until then… deal a few contracts, or let them expire…
And the most fundamental “if” in sports – “if” they can win with this core group of players.
I vote for alternative #1, “win now”, and we’ll see how the future unfolds, later.
We’ll just tell Chevy and PoMo that the fans have voted in favour of this option.