After qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, the Winnipeg Jets entered more of a transitionary period this offseason than many expected. The team ended its contractual obligations to then-captain Blake Wheeler, as well as dealing Pierre-Luc Dubois to an up-and-coming Western Conference rival.
Nevertheless, after even more speculation of a full-on teardown, the Jets managed to extend both Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck, committing to a significant part of their core. In a tough Central Division, Winnipeg will again have another uphill battle to make it to the postseason.
Without much available in draft capital, the Jets were able to select Barlow in the back half of the first round, one of the better goal scorers out of the Ontario Hockey League last season. In 59 games played, Barlow would score 46 goals and 33 assists, finishing top-five in the league in goal-scoring. If his goal-scoring ability doesn’t dissipate, and he can bring it to professional hockey, Barlow should fit nicely into the future of Winnipeg’s top-six forward unit.
Aside from Barlow, the Jets primarily selected fringe players, as well as Milic in the fifth round. He was a standout player in the WHL last season, posting a 27-3-1 record for Seattle, garnering a .928 SV% as well as a 2.08 GAA. Aside from his time spent in the state of Washington, Milic helped lead Team Canada to a gold medal finish in the World Junior Championships, managing zero losses, with a .932 SV% and a 1.76 GAA.
Unable to acquire a first-round pick in the deal that sent Dubois to the Los Angeles Kings, the Jets were still able to acquire two players with upside potential. Kupari has yet to break out in any real way, but given the relevant proximity to his draft year, he should be able to become a long-term fixture in the Winnipeg lineup with more playing time.
Since the beginning of his career with the Kings, Iafallo has always proven to be a solid option in the middle-six of any organization, but the real prize for Winnipeg lies in Vilardi. Although dealing with injuries, after seeing an approximate two-minute average increase in playing time last season, Vilardi was able to score 23 goals and 18 assists in 63 games for Los Angeles. Now with the ability to play on the first line of a competitive team, Vilardi could see his production increase considerably.
*denotes two-way contract
After a back-and-forth season last year, Winnipeg was able to bring Brossoit back into the fold this offseason. Posting incredible regular season stats in a very limited set of games, Brossoit would entertain a 7-0-3 record, garnishing a .927 SV% and a 2.17 GAA. Finally returning to the Golden Knights for their playoff run, after posting very mild numbers, and succumbing to yet another injury, Brossoit would fully relinquish the net to Adin Hill, who would lead Vegas to its first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
Aside from Brossoit, the Jets mostly nibbled around the edges of the free agency pool, most notably bringing back trade deadline acquisition Namestnikov to a two-year contract. In 20 games after being acquired from the San Jose Sharks, Namestnikov would score two goals and eight assists in 20 games, chipping in two assists in five playoff games.
F Morgan Barron (two year, $2.7MM)
D Declan Chisholm (one year, $775K)*
F Rasmus Kupari (two year, $2MM)
D Dylan Samberg (two year, $2.8MM)
D Logan Stanley (one year, $1MM)
F Gabriel Vilardi (two year, $6.875MM)
The Jets were able to sign both Vilardi and Kupari relatively quickly once acquired from Los Angeles, and proceeded to re-sign other important factors, using up most of their available cap space. However, one of the most surprising RFA signings of the offseason came out of Winnipeg in the retention of Stanley on defense.
In March, Stanley publicly requested a trade away from the Jets but instead chose to re-sign with the team in mid-August (albeit with limited negotiation power). Coming off of a relatively down season in 2022-23, even for his standards, Stanley was granted the chance to rebuild his value in the hopes of moving on from Winnipeg.
F Pierre-Luc Dubois (traded to Los Angeles)
F Loen Gawanke (traded to San Jose)
F Karson Kuhlman (NY Islanders, one year, $775K)
F Alex Limoges (Washington, one year, $775K)
F Kevin Stenlund (Florida, one year, $1MM)
F Blake Wheeler (NY Rangers, one year, $1.1MM)
In the middle of two career-high seasons for Wheeler between 2018-20, Winnipeg would sign him to a five-year, $41.25MM contract extension. Unfortunately, as the captain of the franchise, Wheeler would only see four of those years, before finally being bought out by the Jets this offseason. Losing him as a leader in the locker room is going to be a tough pill to swallow, but factoring in his production over the last couple of seasons, the Jets should be able to replace Wheeler on the ice adequately.
Receiving a solid return package for Dubois in the trade that sent him to the Kings, the Jets are left a little bit thin at the center position. For now, they will rely on top prospect, Cole Perfetti, to slide into Dubois’ formal role on the Jets’ second line. Given his skill set, Winnipeg should have every reason to believe that Perfetti can fit that role, but given his injury history, may not be the best short-term option if the team wishes to compete.
Salary Cap Outlook
If the Jets are indeed looking to compete for a Western Conference playoff spot this season, they will have ample cap space at the deadline to acquire any additional assets they may require. With $2.3MM in cap space heading into the season, as well as gaining an additional $16+ this offseason without much in the way of retention.
The team will have to ink a new deal with Perfetti, but given how he performs this season, should be able to fit it in comfortably given their cap situation. If the team is in a relatively competitive spot this season, look for the Jets as a potential suitor for the services of Elias Lindholm if he is unable to sign a new extension with the Calgary Flames by the trade deadline.
What Is Left To Add? For most clubs, the Jets are still in an envious position given their contract structure. They have their franchise center, defenseman, and goaltender signed to long-term contracts, but still feel as if they are missing an important cog in their organization. For the most part, the team could benefit greatly from adding an additional offensive weapon to their lineup, as it appears to be the only weak link. Depending on the performance of Vilardi, Kupari, and Iafallo, the Jets could be a surprise buyer at next year’s trade deadline.
Images courtesy of USA Today Sports.