The Winnipeg Jets are a team looking to improve after a couple of subpar regular seasons. Most of their shortcomings have been due to the team’s defense after unexpectedly losing Dustin Byfuglien after the 2018-19 season. Winnipeg made a flurry of moves to address that issue this offseason, acquiring Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon to replace Derek Forbort and Tucker Poolman, both of those replacements being undeniable upgrades. While the team looks poised to have more success than in the past few seasons.
They brought Paul Stastny back into the fold on a one-year, $3.75MM deal to help continue to solidify their top-six forward group. But one long-time important piece won’t be returning to Winnipeg this season — Bryan Little. Little suffered a concussion and ruptured eardrum after playing just seven games in 2019-20, and it’s unlikely that the longtime Thrashers/Jets forward suits up ever again. Instead, his $5.3MM cap hit will go on long-term injured reserve for yet another season.
Still, that maximum of $5.3MM as a cap cushion isn’t enough for Winnipeg right now, as they currently sit at $5.8MM over the cap with a full roster. While Winnipeg could send just one forward down to become cap-compliant, it leaves them with very little wiggle room throughout the season in case of injury and hinders their flexibility at the trade deadline.
The most likely short-term solution is to send forward David Gustafsson to Manitoba. He’s one of only two players who aren’t waiver-eligible on the Winnipeg active roster. But after scoring 19 points in 22 AHL games last year, he’ll likely push for an NHL role throughout the season. They also could opt to send defender Sami Niku down to the minors, as his tenure with the club hasn’t gone very smoothly, but risk losing him on waivers to a team willing to take a chance on his development. They’ve tried to deal Niku in the past with no takers, as teams likely anticipate that he’ll be available for them to select on the waiver wire at some point in the future.
There are other names, such as Dominic Toninato and Jansen Harkins, that could see some time in the AHL as a short-term solution to Winnipeg’s salary cap situation. The reality stands that Winnipeg likely needs to make an additional move to create some cap flexibility for a team that needs it to be a contender this year.
All cap figures courtesy of CapFriendly.