Jets Roster Analysis: What will the Jets do with Tobias Enstrom? (Part 1)
Much has been made this off-season of the Winnipeg Jets’ negotiations with Evander Kane. Kane is garnering much of the spotlight because he is the team’s best up-and-coming scorer. Further, his rumoured issues with the City of Winnipeg, whether true or completely baseless, serve as a lightning rod for discussion purposes. Through all the talk about Kane’s negotiations, along with the criminal matters surrounding Ondrej Pavelec and Dustin Byfuglien, little attention has been paid to the predicament the Jets find themselves in with one of the team’s top defenders, Tobias Enstrom.
Enstrom is one of the catalysts for the Jets’ back-end. He can skate; he can move the puck and keys the team’s transition game. He does not have the most overwhelming shot, but the puck gets to where it needs to go when it comes off of his extraordinarily long stick. Moreover, Enstrom predominately plays the role of safety net for the popular, yet undisciplined, Dustin Byfuglien. In fact, of Dustin Byfuglien’s even strength ice-time, over 60% of that time was spent last season with the diminutive Enstrom by his side.
Even with the past two Stanley Cup champions consisting of big tough defenses (at least for the most part) puck-moving defenseman continue to carry significant NHL value. Take, for example, Matt Carle’s recent signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning for six years at a total of $33 million. Another example is Jason Garrison’s recent free agent contract with the Vancouver Canucks for six years at a total of $27.6 million. Both of these players excel at moving the puck out of their own zone and logging power play time.
While Enstrom is admittedly smaller than the above-mentioned defensemen, his offensive skills are arguably better.
Sure there are drawbacks to Enstrom’s game. He sometimes makes questionable defensive decisions, can get muscled off pucks easily along the boards, and has trouble clearing the front of his own net—if asked to. Having said that, he spends less time in his own zone because of his transition skills, and the team thereby benefits significantly from that.
Overall Enstrom is a top-line NHL defender and will be among the very best NHL defenders available via unrestricted free agency next season.
As of today, the best defensemen, aside from Enstrom, who will be unrestricted free agents following the 2012-13 season are (in no particular order):
1. Alexander Edler;
2. Kimmo Timonen;
3. Lubomir Visnovsky;
4. Mark Streit;
5. Rob Scuderi;
6. Ladislav Smid;
7. Robyn Regehr;
8. Ryan Whitney;
9. Douglas Murray
10. Jordan Leopold.
(NB: for the purposes of this article, we will assume the new CBA will look similar to the current one when it comes to UFA minutia)
Considering the ages of the above players (most are veterans) and injury history of some players (such as Whitney and Streit), the only really competitor for big-time dollars on a fairly long-term would be Alexander Edler.
The Jets are in an interesting predicament. Winnipeg has Enstrom’s services under contract for the 2012-13 next season at a reasonable salary cap hit of $3.75 million. The Swedish rearguard is unquestionably due a raise. The question is: Will that raise happen in Winnipeg or will he hit the jackpot elsewhere?
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
As one can tell by looking at the goings on in Nashville, dealing with a player well ahead of their gaining unrestricted free agency status, is the best way to do business. In Nashville, Ryan Suter, a player of superior talent to Enstrom, left the organization to head north to Minnesota. What did the Predators receive in return? A whole lot of nothing.
That is what the Jets have to avoid. It really is that simple. Small market franchises (even if the Jets are top 15 in revenue) cannot lose a significant asset without receiving anything of value in return. Ask the Ottawa Senators how losing Zdeno Chara, to a division-rival no less, worked out for them?
Closer to the organizational home, look back at what the Thrashers received in the past when dealing Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk in the midst of the last season of their respective contracts prior to the summer when they were to reach unrestricted free agent status. Simply, the organization received a whole lot of bit parts.
The Jets have an interesting dilemma on their hands; however, there are really only two rational outcomes:
1. Sign Tobias Enstrom to a contract (probably of at minimum three seasons); or
2. Trade Tobias Enstrom prior to the 2012-13 season.
Keeping Enstrom and not signing him to a contract extension would be foolish. Alternatively, keeping Enstrom into next season and deciding to trade him during the season would not necessarily be foolish, but it does carry with it some inherent risk.
On one hand, teams could realize they have a gaping hole on the back-end and have a need for a puck-moving defenseman. That would, of course, work in the Jets favor. On the other hand, some players may well surprise their team’s management and fill a need internally. As well, other players could be acquired instead of a player like Enstrom. The risks are omnipresent.
Having stated the above, one of the biggest risks the Jets face is that the team is successful. I know, somewhat backwards thinking, but follow me here. If the Jets are successful and consequently sitting in a playoff spot come late winter, having not yet re-signed Enstrom, what would the fans think if they dealt one of their best players for less than his perceived worth—or at least for a less effective player (we assume he won’t be traded for a defenseman of equal talent—why would another team do that?)?
Even last season, the Jets did not appear to want to deal any pending UFAs, aside from Johnny Oduya, at the trade deadline. A player like Tanner Glass was retained by Jets management even though he was eventually not re-signed (he probably would not have netted much at the deadline, but at least more than the nothing they received this summer) because the team was still in striking distance for a playoff spot.
This season the Jets, at least on paper, are better than last season. The possibility that the team is in the playoff chase come February or March is more likely this season than it was last season. That will result in more difficult decisions and more fan pressure.
Dealing Enstrom prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, if contracts talks are not fruitful, allows the team to receive value in return for the talented defenseman. If you were an opposing team, would you rather have Enstrom for three months or an entire season? Rationally speaking, having a player on your roster for a longer duration requires a team to yield more compensation but both teams benefit.
The Jets would receive more compensation and the team receiving Enstrom would have the defenseman for an entire season—to not only make a difference on their roster but to give the organization time to become more familiar with the player—provided they decide not to sign him immediately upon trading for him.
To read the part 2 of 2, where Richard breaks down the numbers, click here.