Winnipeg’s Roster Analysis Part II: Restricted Free Agents & Cap Situation

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns,Features,Illegal Curve News,Jets Columns,Roster Analysis,Winnipeg Jets,Winnipeg Jets RFA Analysis on June 1, 2011 — 3 Comments

Part II.  Restricted Free Agents & Cap Situation:

Next let’s identify the team’s restricted free agents.  Led by two-time Stanley Cup champion Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg will have some work to do when it comes to signing their own free agent forwards.

Player Age Approximate cap hit
Andrew Ladd 25 ?
Blake Wheeler 24 ?
Ben Maxwell 23 ?
Rob Schremp 24 ?
Anthony Stewart 26 ?

Obviously being a restricted free agent (RFA) means you have not yet reached your late 20s, but the quality of this group of forwards, combined with the forwards above speaks to the talented young core of Winnipeg’s squad.

Projecting contracts is not an easy task, but let’s attempt to at least estimate a range within which the above players should earn on their next deals.

Andrew Ladd

The 25-year-old captain has already hoisted two Stanley Cups, with Carolina and Chicago respectively and had his most productive offensive season in 2010/11 posting 59 points in 81 games.  Ladd led the team with 29 goals, logging just over 20 minutes per game.  His cap hit last season was a modest $2.35 million, so expect the rugged forward to look for a significant increase.  Ladd produced 1.85 points per 60 minutes of even strength ice time, which is good but not great. The season prior he posted a more efficient 2.11 rate with the Blackhawks.  The key, of course, was that Ladd played against tougher competition in Atlanta than he did in Chicago.   That, increased power play time and a slightly better shooting percentage contributed to his increased offensive production in 2010/11. With Winnipeg counting on him to maintain his role as a top-six forward, last season’s production seems more in line with his overall talent level.

Read more about Winnipeg’s Restricted Free Agents & Cap Situation after the jump by clicking read more.

Players right around Ladd in terms of points, ice-time and age this season include: Mikhail Grabovski, Dustin Brown and RJ Umberger.

Grabovski is 27 years old, signed for $2.9 million next season but is an unrestricted free agent the season after and is set for a salary increase.

Brown is 26 years old and is signed for three more seasons at $3.175 million per season.

Umberger is 29 years old, signed for $3.75 million cap hit next season and is a UFA the season after that.

The most likely comparable of the above group to Ladd is Brown.  They are both rugged players, although Brown draws more penalties, both are captains of their respective teams and both have similar offensive potential.  Let’s assume for the purposes of this article that Ladd signs a three-year deal at a rate of $3.6 million per season.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler has been an interesting player ever since the Coyotes took him as a fairly considerable surprise at fifth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.  Wheeler is a big player, listed at 6’5, 205 pounds who has taken a while to develop into an offensive performer.  After he arrived in Atlanta, he had 17 points in 23 games and played just under 19:00 minutes per night, which consisted of over 2:00 minutes of time per game on the man advantage.  Wheeler was given more of an opportunity than he had in Boston where he was playing approximately 15:00 minutes per night with about 1:00 of power play time per contest.  Wheeler’s even strength offensive efficiency was first on the Thrashers when you take into account his time with Boston.  The 24 year old raked in $2.2 million in 2010/11, but did not really increase his offensive production in three years in Boston, so a modest increase to $2.75 million per season for two years may be a reasonable deal both sides can deal with.

Ben Maxwell and Rob Schremp

Rick Dudley acquired both Maxwell and Schremp later in the 2010/11 season.  Maxwell was part of the Brent Sopel trade and Schremp was claimed off waivers from the Islanders.  Maxwell played 12 games for Atlanta last season and Schremp played 18 games.

Maxwell carried an $850,000 cap hit last season on the final year of his entry-level contract.  That cap hit consisted of a base salary of $650,000 which means he requires a 10% increase on any qualifying offer he receives.  If Maxwell accepts that qualifying offer, that would mean he would be under contract next season for a contract of $715,000.

Schremp is in a similar situation to Maxwell except for he has already been placed on waivers and carries less weight in negotiations.  If the Winnipeg brass likes his game, as he does possess good hands, nice hockey sense and solid passing skills, he will probably find himself signing at a rate in line with his qualifying offer for next season.  Under the CBA rules, Schremp’s qualifying offer requires a 5% raise, putting his NHL contract at $788,288 for next season.  However, one catch is that the Jets can still qualify him under a two-way contract—meaning an NHL rate and AHL rate in the event he is sent to the minors.  It is likely that if Winnipeg qualify Schremp, he will accept that salary on a one-year contract.

Anthony Stewart

Stewart was a first round pick in the 2003 Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers.  The older brother of Chris Stewart of the Avalanche, Anthony came into his own last season playing 80 games, logging just under 15:00 minutes per game and even seeing some power play time.  Stewart is big, weighing in at 230 pounds and standing 6’3.  He scored 14 goals last season and may have carved himself a role on the team’s third line moving forward.  Stewart earned $632,000 last season and a qualifying offer would see him make just under $700,000.  Stewart proved he can shoulder some of the load last season and could see his contract jump to around the $825,000 mark.

So, if the five restricted free agents sign for approximately what they have been slotted in for within this series, here is the chart again:

Player Age Approximate cap hit
Andrew Ladd 25 $3.6 million
Blake Wheeler 24 $2.75 million
Ben Maxwell 23 $715,000
Rob Schremp 24 $788,288
Anthony Stewart 26 $825,000

Now the above is obviously based on a number of assumptions but for the sake of this series, let’s calculate the numbers of forwards under contract for next season under this hypothetical and the according cap hits:  14 forwards, total cap hit of approximately $24.00 million.

Cap Situation

Most fans are under the assumption that the team will not spend up to the salary cap.  With all the talk of a team coming back to Winnipeg, fans generally equated the team’s future cap situation to that of the Predators in Nashville.

The Predators sat at $50.9 million last season, which was approximately 86% of the way up to the salary cap ceiling.  Under the assumption that Winnipeg utilizes that same strategy and with the cap rumoured by Larry Brooks of the NY Post to be $62.2 million, they conceivably could have a salary load of approximately $52.87 million.

On that basis, the team has approximately 45% of its available cap money tied up in its forward corps.  Now remember that we accounted for 14 forwards, some of whom likely will not be with the team.  Additionally, later in this piece we will be looking at which players are available for Winnipeg to target in free agency.

The next stop in analysis will be a focus on the team’s Defencemen.