The Winnipeg Jets are one of the strongest and deepest teams in the NHL. They reached the Western Conference Finals last season on the back of a strong goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck, a never-ending offensive attack, and a diverse and talented blue line. This summer they had quite a bit of work to do to keep that group together, and have already dealt with several issues.
Hellebuyck was signed to a six-year contract, guaranteeing he’ll be in Winnipeg through his prime years, while Adam Lowry and Tucker Poolman signed multi-year deals to maintain their roles as depth players in the NHL. Jacob Trouba reached a one-year deal through the arbitration process, and crept one year closer to unrestricted free agency, and several other fringe pieces re-upped for one-year deals. Just yesterday, Nicolas Kerdiles inked his two-way deal yesterday, but unfortunately, that doesn’t cover nearly all the work the team still has to do.
First on the to-do list has to be a new deal for Josh Morrissey, who has established himself as a key left-handed counterpart to the big names on the right side for the Jets defense corps. With Toby Enstrom leaving for greener pastures, Morrissey will be asked to take on even more responsibility going forward and could demand a long-term deal. The Jets have Poolman, Dustin Byfuglien and Dmitry Kulikov signed past 2018-19, and need to get some more certainty on the blue line as they continue their negotiations with Trouba and fellow 2019 UFA Tyler Myers. For his part, Morrissey believes that a contract will get done before the start of the season. He told Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press as much in a recent interview:
Everyone’s going to have their own opinions and that’s fine, but from my standpoint as a player, my agent and from our conversations with the team, everything’s been going great. Everyone’s confident it will be handled and done, definitely in time for the season.
It’s in Myers, Trouba and captain Blake Wheeler that the next group of big decisions lie. All three are scheduled for unrestricted free agency next summer, and though an extension can’t be signed with Trouba until January, the other two are potential extension candidates at any point. The team certainly doesn’t want to watch two of their most valuable players walk out the door in less than a year, especially as they just start their competitive window.
Then, there is the question of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. Both star forwards are heading into the final years of their entry-level contracts, and both could break the bank on long-term extensions. While Laine says there is no rush to get a deal done, the Jets have to try and save every possible dollar if they’re going to be able to bring back Wheeler and Myers too. Connor is fresh off a breakout 31-goal campaign as a rookie, and Laine looks like he’s poised to be the next great NHL goal scorer capable of winning multiple Maurice Richard trophies and contending for the Hart as league MVP. That kind of player could get an eight figure salary if he pushes hard for it, though the recent Nikita Kucherov extension could put a soft cap on winger earnings for a while.
The Jets are currently sitting with $35MM in cap space for the 2018-19 season, but that suddenly doesn’t seem like very much when you start adding up the salaries of Morrissey, Wheeler, Myers, Trouba, Laine and Connor. There’s room to keep everyone in Winnipeg, but it will be a tight fit. The next 12 months will be an incredibly busy period for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, even while the team tries to compete for the Stanley Cup.