Winnipeg Jets RFA Analysis: Why let Anthony Stewart get away for nothing?

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns,Features,Jets Columns,Roster Analysis,Winnipeg Jets,Winnipeg Jets RFA Analysis on July 4, 2011 — 15 Comments

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.

  • I don’t mind them letting him walk so long as they had a plan to fill the hole. I haven’t seen any evidence of a plan yet and there aren’t a lot of comparable or better players on the market. Dunno.

  • It does seem odd of the Jets to let him go for nothing, when it would have cost them less than nothing to keep him around. I have to think that with The Jets’ stated commitment to “character” and his “character issues”, Mr. Stewart may have been made an example of.  

  • He is that type of player that could continue to develop into a decent 3rd line player or if the rumours of his “tude” are true, one that isn’t worth having on the team.  Sometimes giving up the player for nothing is better than the alternative.

  • Anonymous

    If the alternative is giving him up for something, I have to respectfully disagree.

  • Anonymous

    You can still get rid of him prior to the season and make that example though.

  • Anonymous

    You can plan to fill the hole and still look to acquire something in return. 

  • I guess the question then is, who will the Jets get to replace Anthony?

  • I was shocked when they didn’t qualify Stewart.  He is an ideal 3rd line guy. In his two years in the Atlanta system, I never heard anything about a bad attitude or lack of work ethic.  In fact, during games, he was always one of the hardest working players on the ice.  He has a decent shot and good speed.  Always seems to find himself in good scoring situations.  He started last season off well when he was on the “Oreo” line of Kane-Little-Stewart.  That was a FAST line.  Sad to see him go, but glad he’s staying in the Southeast.

  • Anonymous

    I thought he wouldve been qualified. seems odd to let a guy of his size, skill and age just walk away. Clearly there was a reason that wont be discussed with the media.
    he couldve been a decent 3rd line winger, but the reason I wanted him on the team was because his brother becomes a free agent next season and maybe having one Stewart would help bring another.

  • It could be that Stewart didn’t want to make the move to Winnipeg, which would be why we let him go.

  • Doubtful. He was tweeting pics of him in an old school Jets hat a few days after the announcement of the sale.  I’m going to say he was on board with the move.

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  • Hmm.  That is disappointing that they didn’t resign him then, especially for under 1 mil per season.

    Oh well, gotta have faith that the Chevy & Zinger show know what they are doing.

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  • I’m also wondering about the character of this guy..  You can tell how Winnipeg wants to run this team, and I don’t know if he would have fit the part.  If they lost out on something, that’s a shame, but we also have to remember they have a lot going on with both teams (NHL and AHL), and if they are going to build slowly through draft, the AHL team and school will take up a large amount of time and effort, as you can imagine.  Patience is the key here.