Winnipeg Jets Contract Week: What is Blake Wheeler worth?
What is Blake Wheeler Worth?
Thus far this week, we have examined the contract statuses of both Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian, which leaves us with one significant Winnipeg Jets restricted free agent (RFA) remaining to be valued. That RFA is Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler.
Blake Wheeler (and defenseman Mark Stuart) were acquired by the Atlanta Thrashers in advance of the 2011 NHL trade deadline in exchange for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. At the time of the acquisition by then Thrashers GM Rick Dudley, Wheeler was known as a talented winger but many questions abounded if he would ever reach the potential that made him the fifth overall choice in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Phoenix Coyotes.
Since his trade to Atlanta and his subsequent arrival in Winnipeg, Blake Wheeler has entrenched himself as a top-six NHL forward.
Of all right wing forwards in the NHL during this past lockout shortened season, Wheeler ranked:
Goals: 5th with 19 goals
Assists: 11th with 22 assists
Points: 8th with 41 points
During the 2011-12 season, the last full NHL season, among all right wing forwards, Wheeler ranked as follows in those same categories:
Goals: 45th with 17 goals
Assists: 5th with 47 assists
Points: 14th with 64 points
Looking at those numbers, Blake Wheeler and his representative Matt Keator, are almost assuredly arguing that Wheeler is a clear-cut, top line, NHL right winger who accumulates goals, assists and point totals that establish him in the upper echelon of right wing talent in the NHL.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at Blake Wheeler’s additional statistics:
The above numbers show that Wheeler has played significant minutes as a top-line forward for the Jets. He has faced the other team’s best or second best defensive pairing on a nightly basis, and despite facing a high quality of competition, has produced very solid offensive totals. Additionally, the above numbers show that he is not reliant on the power-play to accumulate his points, which is emblematic of the success Blake Wheeler has been able to have in five-on-five situations.
Let’s examine some players, specifically mid-20’s right wingers, who have performed in a similar manner to Wheeler.
Here are four players that are similar, production wise, to Blake Wheeler:
1. Jakub Voracek;
2. P.A. Parenteau;
3. Teddy Purcell; and
4. Wayne Simmonds.
Of the four players listed above, P.A. Parenteau appears to have been provided with similar opportunity to Blake Wheeler and has provided similar point production. While one could argue that Simmonds is too reliant on the power play to garner his points, he has not been provided with the same quality of line-mates as the other players. He is also the most physical player in the group of players listed above. Over time, you would expect that Jakub Voracek would see an increase in five-on-five ice-time, although his power play time is about one minute more than Blake Wheeler on a per game basis.
Let’s now examine the contractual situations of all of the four listed comparables:
When you average the four comparable players, they evoke strong similarities to Blake Wheeler’s contract situation. That being said, it is not as simple as plugging in a four-year, $4.25 million per season contract and just call it a day.
Wheeler can elect to go to salary arbitration this off-season, where he would have a strong case, (he only missed being a UFA this summer by two months, as he has an August birthday), and then play under a one-year deal before entering into unrestricted free agency next summer. (Andrew Ladd had the same option available to him, but he elected to sign long-term with the Jets).
Wheeler’s arbitration eligibility will provide his agent with a significant amount of leverage. Put simply, the Jets cannot risk going to arbitration with Blake Wheeler and then having one of their top players able to hit the open market after the 2013-14 season. The negative optics of that occurring, and the accompanying leverage that provides to the Blake Wheeler camp, cannot be over-stated when we determine a reasonable contract for Wheeler and the Jets.
Before we examine what a reasonable contract will look like, we have to examine the other options associated with Wheeler’s RFA status, even if they seem improbable.
This does not appear to be reasonable alternative; what with the Jets lacking any form of depth on the right side.
If the team chose to move Dustin Byfuglien to right wing for next season, that would fill the need for a top-six right winger, but it would not create a luxury of depth on the right side for the Jets, while simultaneously affecting the defensive depth.
Wheeler Receives Offer Sheet
This option seems relatively unlikely. Wheeler is not a Shea Weber or Thomas Vanek type player. He is a very good top-six forward but players of his ilk generally do not garner offer sheet interest—unless Brian Burke, Kevin Lowe, and a barn fight are involved.
Conclusion: Value and Term
Blake Wheeler may be the trickiest negotiation Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff faces this off-season. His agent will argue he is undoubtedly a top-ten right winger in the NHL. He will likely ask for quantum in excess of $5.0 million annually.
Cheveldayoff, on the other hand, will likely counter such a proposal with an offer in the $4.5 million range. He is also likely to question why Wheeler should earn in excess of captain and top-point producer Andrew Ladd ($4.4 million per annum)—to which Keator could counter with Olli Jokinen’s contract which was in excess of Ladd’s.
These are how negotiations likely shake out. As a result, middle ground is the reasonable landing spot for both sides.
With all of the above said, this appears to be a reasonable contract solution for Wheeler and the Jets:
Duration: 4 years
Cap Hit: $4.75 million
Total: $19 million