Should he clear, Wheeler will become an unrestricted free agent as a result. TSN’s Darren Dreger was the first to report the move, and he also named the Dallas Stars as a team with interest in signing Wheeler once he hits free agency.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff issued a statement thanking Wheeler, which included the following:
We would like to thank Blake for his dedication and service to the Jets, the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba. We are incredibly grateful for the contributions that he has made during his 12 seasons with the franchise. Most notably, the seven years when he served as the captain of the Jets and helped lead the team to the 2018 Western Conference Final.
As a result of this buyout, the Jets will save $5MM in cap space for this season, reducing Wheeler’s cap hit from $8.25MM to just $2.75MM.
That comes at a cost of a $2.75MM cap hit next season, though. This buyout is about more than just financials, though, it’s about giving the player a fresh start and also allowing the Jets to move on from someone who was once arguably the face of their franchise.
Now 36 years old, Wheeler captained the Jets for six seasons before having the captaincy stripped by incoming head coach Rick Bowness a year ago. A two-time NHL All-Star, Wheeler has been with the Jets since they relocated from Atlanta, and has totaled nearly 900 games for the franchise. He’s scored 255 goals and 795 points as a Jet, first among all players of the franchise’s newest era and third all-time including the Jets’ earlier era, behind just Dale Hawerchuk and Thomas Steen.
Wheeler oversaw the rise of the Jets under Paul Maurice, an era that culminated in a run to the Western Conference Final in 2017-8, where they fell to the Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets afterward failed to re-capture the magic of that year, though Wheeler himself continued his personal brilliance hovering at or near a point-per-game rate.
Late in his Jets tenure, Wheeler and other members of the team’s veteran core drew criticism for what looked from the outside to many fans to be a toxic culture and lack of accountability in the Jets locker room. While as outside observers we don’t truly know what the reality of the Jets’ locker room and culture actually was, it became clear after the “C” was removed from Wheeler’s jersey that a fresh start would eventually be necessary for both sides.
Now, that fresh start has been secured, and the Jets have opened up some significant cap space in a summer where financial flexibility is at a premium. As for Wheeler, he’ll hit free agency a year early and have the ability to select where he potentially spends the rest of his playing career.
Wheeler scored a combined 61 points in 77 regular season and playoff games, so while he might not be the dominant offensive force he once was it’s clear he still has something to contribute.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images