The Winnipeg Jets are preparing for the biggest off-season since the franchise came to Manitoba in 2011, and it could be an expensive summer.
With the current campaign inching closer to the halfway point, the Jets are staring down the potential free agencies of three key players: captain Andrew Ladd and defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. Both Ladd, 30, and Byfuglien, 30, are set for unrestricted free agency as of July 1, 2016, while Trouba, 21, is coming to the end of his entry-level deal and will be a restricted free agent. No matter how you look at it, though, Winnipeg is going to have to make some big money decisions about their future.
The Winnipeg Free Press’ Tim Campbell reported Monday evening that the Jets, if they wish to retain each of Ladd, Byfuglien and Trouba, could be forking out $152 million over the next several seasons. Per Campbell, Ladd is asking for a six-year deal worth roughly $41 million, Byfuglien is looking for $55 million over eight years and Trouba is eying up an eight-year deal worth $56 million. All of these numbers, Campbell noted, are simply starting points. All three reported asks would give the Jets a new highest-paid player — the title defenseman Toby Enstrom currently holds with an average annual salary of $5.75 million.
However, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Monday that Trouba’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, told him, “the information about Jacob is incorrect. Incorrect.”
Currently, Ladd is earning $4.4 million, Byfuglien makes $5.2 million and Trouba, on his entry-level deal, earns $894,167.
The big asks from three key players put the Jets in a tough position, especially considering Winnipeg will also be needing to dish out RFA contracts to Adam Lowry and Mark Scheifele, with Michael Hutchinson (RFA) and Adam Pardy (UFA) also up for new deals.
Depending on the asks of Lowry and Scheifele, and to a lesser-extent Hutchinson and Pardy, Winnipeg could have the cap space to keep Ladd, Byfuglien and Trouba at their reported demands. That said, keeping all three could prove impossible without moving salary out. As of Tuesday, the Jets have close to $12.4 million in available salary space this season and $28.3 million in 2016-17 before any potential shift in the upper limit.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking from the NHL board of governors meetings in early December, said there’s a possibility the salary cap could increase by up to $3 million. That would give Winnipeg extra room to operate should all three be retained and could help Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff the following off-season, July 2017, when even more current roster players will be up for new deals.
When the 2016-17 campaign ends, current roster players Drew Stafford, Mathieu Perreault, Alexander Burmistrov, Chris Thorburn, Andrew Copp, Anthony Peluso, Paul Postma, Ben Chiarot and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck will all become eligible for either restricted or unrestricted free agency. With so many players needing new deals in the same off-season, it’s going to take careful planning from Cheveldayoff in order to keep enough space open to retain key free agents next off-season and continue to improve his team.
Whatever he Jets choose to do, the contract situations concerning Ladd, Byfuglien and Trouba are sure to be major stories in Winnipeg for the remainder of the season.