Winnipeg Jets RFA Analysis: Why let Anthony Stewart get away for nothing?
In light of the insanity that ensued on July 1, 2 and 3 when it came to free agency, the significance of the Winnipeg Jets not qualifying Anthony Stewart pales in comparison.
Jets fans should be happy that Kevin Cheveldayoff and company did not jump into the free agent madness. This team is building slowly (three to five year buffer with all the season tickets already sold) and need not rush a rebuilding plan. Never mind the fact that there was little, if any, value found during the first few days of free agency. Most general managers cannot help themselves and tend to make at least one long-lasting mistake, the Jets brass did not do that, and for that fans should be thankful.
One more aside, no need to complain about all these “Moose signings”. For one, the team is adding depth on the roster and its AHL roster. The brass is familiar with these players and not one of them will crack the top nine forward corps or top four defense corps. Furthermore, no contracts are long term so as to restrict the team’s cap flexibility down the line.
With that said, let’s focus on Anthony Stewart and the Jets’ decision not to tender him a qualifying offer. More importantly, why has this lack of a qualifying offer not received any attention?
More after the jump.
Anthony Stewart was a player we thought would re-sign with the club at an approximate value of $825,000 per season. The Jets ended up not qualifying him last week and he subsequently hit the free agent market and was signed by Jim Rutherford and the Hurricanes for two seasons at $1.8 million, or $900,000 per season.
Rutherford clearly liked what he saw in Stewart who has played the entirety of his NHL career (185 games) in the Southeast Division with both Florida and Atlanta. Rutherford likely saw a 26-year-old big forward with some upside and a cost so affordable that it limited any risk. The minimum NHL salary for next season will be $525,000 and Stewart signed for only $375,000 more than that per season. Moreover, Stewart will be 27 after one year of his deal, so Carolina is actually buying out one of his UFA years within that contract.
Stewart was a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer and to retain his rights, the Jets needed to qualify him at just under $700,000. That does not mean they could sign him at that rate, but they could retain his rights—meaning he could not sign with another team without the applicable draft compensation.
Was it worth it for the Jets to let a 26-year-old forward leave town for nothing? Surely he provides more value than not; last season the big (6’3, 220 pounds) winger posted 14 goals and 25 assists in 80 games. He moves very well for his size and is physical (98 hits—219th in NHL).
While it has been unspoken, it appears that Stewart’s work ethic may have been a major factor in the club’s decision not to bring Stewart to Winnipeg. The Jets brass has made it clear that character goes a long way and if they thought that was an issue (again, that is speculation not fact) they may have thought it was better to not deal with that perceived headache and, more importantly, stay true to their word.
The question then becomes, why not qualify Stewart and then sign him to a reasonable contract (between $800,000 and $900,000—hardly a lot in this NHL) then look to deal him. If you sign him to a one-year deal, which was probably preferable for Stewart as he was set to become a UFA in a year’s time, you have the summer to look to trade him for anything (even a low draft pick). If the team could not trade him for even a low draft pick, the option of a buy-out existed as well.
Considering his size, speed and modest scoring ability, it is difficult to think that Stewart would not have turned into at least a fourth round pick or below.
Sure those picks have little value, but little value is better than no value.