While much of the ink this offseason has been spilled about Mitch Marner, there are plenty of other extremely talented restricted free agents still unsigned as we get closer to training camp. There is just a month left before the Winnipeg Jets will get together to prepare for the season but both Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are still without contracts. In fact, the Jets only have seven forwards signed to one-way contracts for the upcoming campaign meaning any negotiations that leak into the regular season would put a lot of pressure on their already thin depth chart.
When asked by media including TSN whether he hopes to have a deal done before training camp starts, Connor was clear that would be his preference:
Yeah that’s definitely the plan. A player never wants to miss time in training camp, it’s tough always coming in and not getting that preparation, time with the teammates and practice. So that’s definitely a goal for sure.
I don’t think it’s anything to press the panic button on. It’s just kinda how these things do—take a little bit of time.
Connor wouldn’t comment on whether his representatives or the Jets are waiting on a player like Marner to set the market, something that has been speculated on for some time. The young forward also didn’t have much to say about any offer sheets coming his way, something that is still technically a possibility for many of the top names. After Sebastian Aho signed a sheet with the Montreal Canadiens on the first day of free agency—one that was quickly matched by the Carolina Hurricanes—the league seems to be back to normal concerning the RFA tactic (that is to say, there have been no others signed.)
While Laine has stolen many of the headlines the last several seasons in Winnipeg, it’s Connor who has established himself as a legitimate first line option at even-strength. The 22-year old former Michigan Wolverine has consecutive 30+ goal seasons in his first two full years in the NHL and put up 66 points in 2018-19. Laine meanwhile has continued his incredible goal scoring, but saw his overall performance drop to just 50 points in 82 games last season.
It’s that even-strength production for Connor that arguably makes him a more valuable player for the Jets moving forward, though both are obviously going to get huge raises coming off of their entry-level contracts. How exactly the team plans on fitting them into their current salary structure is unclear however, given they already have so much money tied up in a handful of other forwards. CapFriendly currently projects the Jets to have a little less than $17.6MM in cap space, but that is for a 17-man roster. That number starts to shrink as you add names from the minor leagues to fill out the forward ranks, and the pair of restricted free agents could easily eat up a combined chunk around $15MM depending on term. That financial crunch may end up forcing the Jets to go with a shorter contract for at least one of them, though nothing seems imminent at this point.