What the Winnipeg Jets might look like with a 60 million dollar salary cap
With the most unnecessary lockout in professional sports history about to come to a head, let’s take this opportunity to examine, on a hypothetical basis, the ramifications of the salary cap dropping to the $60.0 million range in year two of the prospective collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
Much has been made about some teams, like the Montreal Canadiens, being in tough if the salary cap does drop by just over $10.0 million from this shortened season (if it happens) to the next season thereafter.
The purpose of this article is to focus strictly on the Winnipeg Jets and the team’s salary cap situation heading into the 2013-14 season.
First, let’s examine which players are under contract for that season (as per the extremely helpful capgeek.com):
As you can see, the Jets have considerable cap space heading into the 2013-14 season. Cap space is code for roster flexibility and something the Jets have been waiting for since the move from Atlanta. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff cannot say it on the record but you can bet your bottom dollar he has been projecting for the contracts of Antropov and Hainsey to come off the salary cap books.
As written about in last season’s Maple Street Press Jets magazine, the Jets have had far too much money locked up in their defense corps. In fact, the Jets headed into last season with the highest proportion of cap dollars allocated to defense in the entire NHL.
Before delving into who needs to be signed to fill the fairly bare roster (not talent-wise but numbers-wise), it is interesting to note that by the 2013-14 season the Jets will already be on the way to being Kevin Cheveldayoff’s team. He re-signed Tobias Enstrom, Ondrej Pavelec, Andrew Ladd, Jim Slater and Evander Kane and he went out and signed Olli Jokinen. After the 2013-14 season when Mark Stuart and Chris Thorburn’s contracts expire, Cheveldayoff will have penned all contracts on the roster save and except for Dustin Byfuglien.
Roster Spots Per Dollar
The above chart indicates that the Jets have 5 forwards, 3 defensemen and 1 goaltender signed for the 2013-14 season.
We will base this analysis on the Jets carrying 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and 2 goaltenders (assuming the 23 man roster limit is not amended in the prospective CBA).
Consequently, the Jets have 14 roster spots to fill with $26.84 million ($60.0 million minus $33.16) in cap space.
That equates to $1.91 million per roster spot.
Pending Restricted Free Agents
Heading into the 2013-14 season, the Jets will have significant RFAs such as Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian. For the purposes of this analysis we will assume all three players re-sign (personally I feel Wheeler and Bogosian will re-sign and Little will eventually be moved—but that is just my opinion and if we delve into further hypotheticals like that this article may never end).
Alexander Burmistrov is also a pending RFA, but his success, or lack thereof, will likely result in a modest second contract or trade.
Conservative estimates of these players’ respective market values are as follows:
Much has been written about his talent level on Illegal Curve (click here to read such analysis).
This is not a simple contract analysis but if you compare Little to players like Antoine Vermette, Sam Gagner and Tim Connolly you are estimating a salary in the approximate range of $3.75 million per season.
Zach Bogosian is one of the stalwarts of the Jets defense. He is physical, can skate as well as any defensemen and his offensive game has made some strides. What’s more, he apparently really enjoys playing in Winnipeg and appears to be more than willing to re-up with the organization long-term.
After just handing Tobias Enstrom a big-money long-term deal with an average cap hit of $5.75 million, Bogosian will be looking to cash in on a long-term pact. The New York native will have accrued five NHL season by the time the 2012-13 season (if it ever happens) is completed. As such, he will be a mere two seasons (and seven accrued NHL seasons) to being a UFA. Leverage is the key here and Bogosian will have lots of it—arbitration as well.
Looking to sign his third NHL contract and cash-in long term it would be fair to estimate that Bogosian will at least make $5.0 million per on his next contract.
Blake Wheeler made great strides last season. The Minnesota native came into his own and carried over his strong play upon being traded to Atlanta the season prior to the Jets’ return to Winnipeg.
He can skate, is a deft passer and can put up some goals as well. His size and speed combination make him a desirable commodity on the NHL landscape.
Wheeler has already accrued five NHL seasons and the 2012-13 season would be his sixth. Wheeler played three NCAA seasons in Minnesota and will actually be 27 on August 31, 2013. Therefore, Wheeler will only be an RFA for the 2013-14 season and will then be a UFA.
Essentially, he will be in the same negotiation position (one year left on RFA deal) as Andrew Ladd was last summer. The Jets have to decide whether they believe Wheeler is a number one or number two right winger—but will probably sign him regardless of that internal determination.
A salary in the neighborhood of $4.5 million is not an unreasonable expectation.
Burmistrov has struggled in first couple NHL seasons. What is apparent is that Burmistrov needed more seasoning and was thrust into the spotlight in Atlanta unnecessarily–that was a consistent trend for the Thrashers.
His cap hit this upcoming season is $1.5 million and expecting any contract figure higher than that seems unlikely. If Burmistrov re-signs with the Jets a one-year deal in that same neighborhood is quite possible.
Updated Roster Status
Let’s examine the 2013-14 prospective roster taking into account the projections for Little, Wheeler and Bogosian:
Updated Roster Spots Per Dollar
The Jets now have 8 forwards, 4 defensemen and 1 goaltender signed for the 2013-14 season.
Leaving the organization with 10 roster spots to fill with $12.09 million ($60.0 million minus $47.91) in cap space.
That equates to $1.209 million per roster spot.
We are assuming only one, if any (my personal opinion is they may look to keep Wellwood), of the likes of Nikolai Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Kyle Wellwood and Antti Miettinen will return for the 2013-14 season.
With that in mind, players such as Mark Scheifele, Zach Redmond, Ivan Telegin and Jason Gregoire will be counted on to play in the NHL without taking a big chunk of the team’s cap.
The main point this analysis hammers home is that you have to draft well in the NHL. This is not baseball where a team can go out pay a boatload of money and sign another team’s best player hitting his prime. Very few top players even hit UFA status in the NHL anymore. In any event, such players come at a high cost—see: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
The Jets will need their draft picks (so far Cheveldayoff and his scouting staff have appeared to have a good idea of what they are doing) to outperform their contracts.
Again, for the purposes of this analysis, let’s assume the aforementioned players make the Jets in 2013-14.
Here is the updated roster outlook:
Updated Roster Spots Per Dollar
The Jets now have 11 forwards, 5 defensemen and 1 goaltender signed for the 2013-14 season.
Leaving the organization with 6 roster spots to fill with $8.03 million ($60.0 million minus $51.97) in cap space.
That equates to $1.33 million per roster spot—which means the average cap hit availability actually goes up upon the inclusion of young talent on entry level deals (this will be the key to the Jets’ success).
The above demonstrates that the Jets have some room to move heading into the 2013-14 season. But we must make note of the fact that the Jets have never indicated the organization would be paying to the ceiling of the salary cap. Even if the minimum salary increases under the prospective CBA and the Jets fill the remaining spots like sixth defenseman, backup goalie and some third and fourth line spots (what about a first or second line right winger?) at the league minimum the team cap will be inching towards the $56.0 to $57.0 million range.
That is why this analysis has not mentioned other team’s free agents (including players other teams buyout). There will be little funds for such a splash—unless, of course, trades are made.
Speaking of buyout candidates, if the league provides its teams with a period of time to buyout existing players on contracts, it does not appear the Jets have anyone worth buying out.
As mentioned above, Cheveldayoff is responsible for the majority of the contracts on the Jets’ books for the 2013-14 season (the buyouts (two of them to be correct) are allegedly going to be available after the 2012-13 season and before the 2013-14 season.
The only contracts Cheveldayoff has not signed are: Mark Stuart ($1.7 million), Dustin Byfuglien ($5.2 million) and Chris Thorburn ($0.86 million).
Stuart is a character defenseman who plays tough, blocks shots and is good in the room. His contract is also reasonable. The Jets almost assuredly won’t buy him out.
Byfuglien is arguably the team’s best defenseman and would make absolutely no sense to buy out.
As for Thorburn, even though he is certainly replaceable, (Note: The prospective buyouts won’t count against the team cap (only HRR-hockey related revenue)), Thorburn makes so little in NHL terms and is well-liked in the room enough to make Cheveldayoff wait until his salary comes off the books. Plus buying him out does not provide any extra salary cap flexibility as the player that would replace him would probably make just as much money (although may be more talent—which still makes this a possibility).
When all is said and done, the Jets do not have a lot of money on the books when you look forward to the 2013-14 season. A prospective $60.0 million NHL hard cap does appear to provide the Jets with more flexibility than other NHL organization. And while that may very well be true, after taking care of their current stable of talent there is not whole lot of financial wiggle room.
The more likely scenario is that the Jets eventually pull the trigger on a number of trades (will Jacob Trouba push Zach Bogosian or Dustin Byfuglien to the market with his strong play as a right-side defender?) and continue their emphasis on the draft (Cheveldayoff has loaded up picks for the upcoming Entry Draft in New Jersey).
Developing a playoff caliber team on an annual basis does not happen overnight but the blueprint is in place to make it happen over the next few seasons.
Now we just need the players and owners to actually sign a CBA so we can wait to find out.