The winds of change are reaching hurricane force in Winnipeg. They’re undoubtedly moving on from a pair of core pieces in Connor Hellebuyck and Pierre-Luc Dubois via trade this summer, and now TSN’s Darren Dreger reports another potential trade chip could be headed straight for a buyout – former captain Blake Wheeler.
It’s been a sharp decline in play for the 36-year-old Minnesota product since recording back-to-back 90-point seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19. The 2004 fifth-overall pick ranks among the all-time leaders in many Thrashers/Jets franchise stats, suiting up for the franchise in 897 games over 13 seasons. Thinly veiled culture issues have been widely reported on in Winnipeg over the past few seasons, though, which culminated in the team stripping Wheeler of his captaincy last offseason.
Entering the final season of a five-year, $41.25MM contract, Wheeler has both a five-team ’yes’ trade list and a full no-movement clause attached to his deal. Trade discussions started as far back as a year ago, and while they continue to explore the market, their options of moving him for much (or any) value are limited. He did still manage 16 goals and 55 points in 72 games this season, although advanced metrics suggest much of his point production has become the product of his teammates.
He’ll be 37 years old next season, and he’s just no longer at the point of being a top-six forward on a contending team. While he once had a reputation as a capable defensive winger, that’s largely dried up, and he takes more penalties than one would expect, given his style of play. He still has value and skill as a pure passer, but he’s reaching the point where he should be relied upon for around 14 minutes a game instead of the 17 he averaged in Winnipeg last year.
Per CapFriendly, buying out the final season of his $8.25MM cap hit would reduce the cost to $2.75MM in each of the next two seasons, providing $5.5MM in savings in 2023-24.