Winnipeg’s Roster Analysis Part III: Defensemen

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

Part III. Defensemen

Winnipeg has a very, very impressive young base on defense.  The team’s best all-around defenseman as of today is arguably Tobias Enstrom.  The Swedish defender will remind Winnipeggers of Teppo Numminen—goes about his business the right way, smart player and perennially underrated.  Enstrom is joined by Roseau, Minnesota’s Dustin Byfuglien.  “Big Buff” is now going to be afforded the opportunity of playing within three hours driving distance of his hometown in Northern Minnesota.  The two defenders played the majority of last season as defense partners with Enstrom manning the left side and Byfuglien the right.  The combination is tremendous at moving the puck and creating offense.  Enstrom is stronger than Byfuglien when it comes to defensive play and Byfuglien is the more physical player of the two.

As much as Enstrom and Byfuglien were considered to be the top pairing in the ATL last season, it was actually 20 year old Zach Bogosian who played against the opposing team’s top competition on the most consistent basis.  Bogosian has loads of talent.  He can skate, shoot, hit and create offense.  Defenseman like Bogosian do not grow on trees; the former Peterborough Pete can be a game-changing defenseman with time and further development.  Bogosian played the majority of last season with former New Jersey Devils defender Johnny Oduya.  Oduya is a good skater who slots in as more of a fourth defenseman focused mainly on playing a solid stay-at-home style.  With Enstrom, Byfuglien and Bogosian on the squad, Oduya does not have to force offense.

Read more about Winnipeg’s defensemen after the jump by clicking read more.

Hailed as an offensive prospect when ascending through the Montréal Canadiens organization, Ron Hainsey learned to play a well-rounded game while playing under Ken Hitchcock in Columbus.  Through no fault of his own, former Thrashers GM Don Waddell opened the Atlanta Spirit Group wallets to Hainsey in the summer of 2008.  Hainsey signed for $4.5 million cap hit per season for five seasons.  Under the Thrashers’ coaching staff last season, Hainsey was essentially employed as a fifth defenseman.  In few markets can a team afford to have a fifth defenseman earning that kind of salary but in markets that do not go right up against the cap it makes maneuvering the cap even more difficult.

The sixth defenseman job will be an interesting battle, as Winnipeg has some prospects in the system, namely Artus Kulda, who could earn that spot without salaries being taken into the equation.  For now, though, Mark Stuart, who Rick Dudley signed to a two-year contract extension soon after acquiring him from Boston in the Rich Peverley trade, may be the favourite for that slot.  Stuart’s ticket is now $1.7 million cap hit per season for the next three seasons.  Again, through no fault of his own, Stuart is making a lot of money for a sixth or so defenseman.

Winnipeg has way, way, way too much money locked into their four through six defensemen for this season.

Let’s take a look at the team’s defense one through six in terms of age, contracts and ice-time:

Player Cap Hit for 2010/11 in millions Signed through Total Ice time per game Power Play Ice time Penalty Killing ice time
Enstrom $3.75 2012/13 23:41 4:32 0:46
Byfuglien $5.2 2015/16 23:18 4:02 0:05
Bogosian RFA RFA 22:24 1:58 2:01
Oduya $3.5 2011/12 20:43 0:50 3:03
Hainsey $4.5 2012/13 18:05 0:28 1:49
Stuart $1.7 2013/14 14:50 0:04 1:58

The chart above, while fairly simple, reveals some points of interest.  First, Tobias Enstrom is very good value for his production.  Second, Dustin Byfuglien has to start playing some time on the penalty kill at a reasonable level to justify his contract moving forward.  Zach Bogosian is playing big minutes for a 20-year-old defenseman, is in for a more than reasonable payday and eventually will be the team’s best defenseman—the last portion of that statement being a point of opinion than a reflection of the above chart.

The top three defensemen on Winnipeg are young, talented and only going to get better.  The bottom three defensemen carry tickets too large to occupy those slots on the team.  Combined, the bottom three defensemen on the team make $9.7 million per season.

Earlier, we used the Nashville comparison for Winnipeg’s salary cap structure.  Well, the Predators paid their bottom three defensemen of Blum, O’Brien and Franson $3.34 million.

Before even signing Bogosian to a new contract, Winnipeg currently have $18.65 million locked up in the team’s defense corps.  Spending money on defense has been a successful strategy for teams like Detroit and Chicago, but even those teams pay their fifth and six defensemen very little in comparison (see: Salei, Ericsson, Campoli and Leddy).

With respect the Bogosian negotiations; the big American rear guard just completed the final year of his entry-level contract.  Winnipeg will automatically qualify him but he is in for a fairly significant ticket moving forward.

Let’s look a couple of defensemen who were in a similar situation to Bogosian within the last year:

Player Cap hit per season Duration of contract
Erik Johnson $2.6 million Two seasons
Kris Letang $3.5 million Four seasons

By signing for a shorter period of time both the Blues (Johnson is now an Avalanche but signed this contract with St. Louis) and Johnson incurred some risk.  Johnson gave up the security of a long-term deal.  Conversely, the Blues incurred the risk that Johnson would have two breakout seasons and would be worth far more in that third season than he would have been had they signed him long-term in the summer of 2010.

On the other hand, Kris Letang took the security of a long-term contract and the risk that he could produce at a high level (which he has) and not cash in on that success earlier than four seasons down the road.

As you can probably tell, Bogosian and Winnipeg management have a number of options on their respective hands.

For interest sake, why don’t we split the difference and project that Bogosian signs a three-year contract at $3.1 million per season.

That would bring the team’s top six defense contract total to $21.75 million.  Remember, the team could conceivably have 14 forwards at approximately $24 million, so you can almost be assured that Winnipeg will look to cut some salary on the back-end if at all possible.