The Winnipeg Jets have had a huge offseason, but have now announced another huge contract. Captain Blake Wheeler has signed a five-year, $41.25MM extension that will keep him in Winnipeg through the 2023-24 season and make him the 16th highest paid forward in the league with an $8.25MM cap hit. Wheeler is heading into the final season of his current deal and was set to be one of the headliners of the 2019 free agent market, but will now be under contract until he is 37. According to Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun, the deal includes a full no-movement clause for the first three seasons and a modified no-trade clause in the final two. The full salary breakdown (via Chris Johnston of Sportsnet) is as follows:
- 2019-20: $6.0MM salary + $4.0MM signing bonus
- 2020-21: $6.5MM salary
- 2021-22: $10.0MM salary
- 2022-23: $6.5MM salary
- 2023-24: $8.25MM salary
Wheeler, 32, is coming off the most productive offensive season of his career and one in which he proved his status as one of the most versatile players in the league. Moving to center for the first extended stretch of his career while Mark Scheifele dealt with injury, Wheeler picked up the position immediately and was a force at both ends of the rink. Setting a new career-high in points with 91, and following that with a 21-point playoff performance, the 6’5″ forward has established himself as one of the premiere playmakers in the NHL and potentially could have demanded an even higher cap hit had he reached the open market.
While $8.25MM does become the Jets’ highest cap hit for the 2018-19 season currently, that number will likely be broken by the upcoming Patrik Laine extension that could command upwards of $10MM per season. The Jets are obviously willing to pay a good deal in order to keep their championship window open, but have done well to keep Wheeler on a contract shorter than the maximum eight years. Wheeler, Schiefele, Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers are now all signed through at least the 2023-24 season, while Laine and Kyle Connor are next up for extensions as they head into the final seasons of their entry-level contracts.
It seems unlikely that Wheeler will be able to match his 90-point pace for the remainder of the contract, but even if he settles back into the 65-75 range that he has put up in previous years the Jets will be more than happy with their investment. Though his offensive exploits are the biggest reason for his upcoming raise, to a man the Jets organization raves about his leadership qualities on and off the ice, and he’s also earned Selke votes four times in his career as one of the league’s best defensive forwards.
For the Jets, there is obvious risk at the end of the contract when Wheeler is heading into his late-thirties, but it’s the price they have to pay in order to keep the window open right now. While the Nashville Predators and others in the Western Conference continue to load up for a run at the Stanley Cup, the Jets should be considered a front runner for the next few seasons. The team does still have quite a bit of work to do this summer, given that Josh Morrissey remains unsigned and Laine, Connor, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba are all scheduled for free agency next offseason, but getting Wheeler under contract is a big step forward.
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