The Winnipeg Jets locked down a key component of their blueline on Monday by signing defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year contract extension with an average annual value of $7.6 million.
It’s hard to see this as anything but a win for the Jets. The term is reasonable for the soon-to-be 31-year-old, much more so than the punishing eight years he was believed to be seeking. And while the AAV is lofty—only P.K. Subban ($9 million) and Shea Weber ($7.857 million) will carry higher cap hits next season—retaining a unique talent like Byfuglien in a rebuilding environment was never going to be cheap, especially when he sacrificed term.
Now that the Jets have made this commitment to Buff, the dominoes will begin to fall.
In Winnipeg, this means more than simply five more years of the league’s most frightening all-purpose blueliner. It means that captain Andrew Ladd will be put on the market ahead of the deadline.
When it happens, there won’t be any shortage of interest. At 30, Ladd isn’t the player he was during his first four years with the organization. He’s lost a step, which is tough on a guy who never was particularly fleet of foot. He’s not scoring like he used to either, putting up 13 goals and 30 points just one year after registering career highs in assists (38) and points (62).
But even with his game is in decline, Ladd is the sort of player who could be the missing link for a contending team: a heavy, grinding winger who can make life miserable for opposing defenders. He’s also a tremendous leader, a glue guy who can bring value on and off the ice. There isn’t a team in the Western Conference that couldn't use one more guy with those qualities ahead of the playoffs.
The price then, even for a rental, will be steep. A pick and a prospect capable of stepping into Winnipeg’s lineup by the start of next season is where the bidding starts. We’ll see where the demand takes it from there.
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It also means that the Jets are likely out of the running for Travis Hamonic. With Byfuglien signed through 2020-21, Tyler Myers through 2018-19 and Jacob Trouba headed for a long-term deal as an RFA this summer, Winnipeg appears to be locked down on right side D. Edmonton now looks like the favorite to land the Islanders’ sturdy top-four defender, possibly at the draft.
And with Byfuglien off the market, the most appealing defenders available at the deadline are likely to be Keith Yandle and Dan Hamhuis. Neither has the ability to impact a game at both ends of the ice in the way Byfuglien can, but each has his strengths. Yandle could be the answer for a team looking to ramp up its power play and enhance its transition game. Hamhuis is more the stay-at-home type, someone who can be counted on to play shutdown minutes. Neither will generate the interest Byfuglien would have, but both should see their trade value enhanced now that they’re Plans 1 and 1A rather than B and C, and that’s good news for the Rangers and Canucks.