Winnipeg Jets Cap Positioning for 2014-15
The Winnipeg Jets are clearly struggling and the team’s ever-slim hopes of making the playoffs are diminishing every passing day. While the team is not mathematically disqualified from the 2013-14 post-season just yet, it is not too early to take a look at what lies ahead for the hockey club, specifically as it relates to the team’s salary cap.
As of Christmas Day, the Winnipeg Jets sit 16th overall in the NHL in team payroll (according to capgeek.com). Of course, the NHL has recently projected next season’s salary cap to increase to $71.1 million, which is an increase of $6.8 million over the current season.
Players Under Contract
Next season the Jets have 15 players under contract; specifically:
Now, don’t take the above lines or pairings to be gospel. Certainly observers have realized Jacob Trouba’s talents and the Jets’ need to improve on the depth lines of the roster. Further, Ondrej Pavelec’s play has not inspired much confidence in his dire supporters and has fueled the fire of his most vehement detractors.
In any event, if you take a look at the Jets roster, the following needs are apparent simply based on the players under contract for the 2014-15 season:
Cap Space for 2014-15
The Jets currently have $48.9 million locked up in the above referenced players, which equates to an average dollars spent of $3.26 million per player. The team, therefore, has $22.2 million in cap space available to fill eight total roster spots or $2.78 million per roster spot.
There is an inherent assumption in the $2.78 million average per roster spot, which is that the Jets will spend to the upper limit of the salary cap. The team has not indicated one way or another what its intentions are but the safe assumption is likely that the Jets will not spend to the upper-end of the cap based on past precedent and comments made in the past by ownership—this season notwithstanding.
With the salary cap ceiling rising the cap floor is also estimated to rise to $52.0 million. So, the mid-point between the ceiling and floor of the salary cap is estimated to be approximately $61.55 million. If the Jets spend to the mid-point of the salary cap the team would have $1.5 million per roster spot available to sign free agents and/or add salary via trade. That number would rise on a per-player basis with lineup additions of players like Adam Lowry and Josh Morrissey but would also lower with the re-signing of pending RFA Michael Frolik, a player who is likely to want and receive at least a 33% raise over his current cap hit of $2.3 million per season.
With so many players signed long-term on the Winnipeg roster, the team’s own projected internal salary cap will go a long way in determining what players the team is in the market for this off-season either via trade or free agency—not to say the team would not increase the cap for certain players available as compared to others.
The NHL salary cap was $70.2 million in 2012-13 (the lockout year) and the Jets had a total cap hit of $58.4 million. This ranked the organization 18th overall in the NHL in total cap spending.
Considering the 2012-13 salary cap and projected 2014-15 cap are almost exactly the same, it may be safe to assume the Jets will be spending in and around the $58.4 million figure. That said, the middle cap spending team in 2012-13 was the Buffalo Sabres and the team had an overall cap hit of $61.4 million. If the Jets decide to increase spending slightly an allotment of $62.0 million for player salaries for 2014-15 may be most realistic.
Remember that minimum level salaries are now $550,000 per player. So if the Jets signed minimum salary level players to fill the remaining eight roster spots, the team would be committing $4.4 million to the roster or a total of $53.3 million for 23 players.
The long and the short of this piece is to indicate that free agency may not be the tonic many are hoping for it to be. If the team re-signs Michael Frolik and adds a top-six forward (as it does not appear one is available within the system) we can approximate that will probably total an expense of at least $7.5 million ($3.0 million and $4.5 million respectively). This would leave the team with less than $1.0 million per player for the rest of the roster to be complete—six roster spots and $5.6 million in roster space.
The more and more you evaluate the Jets roster the more and more apparent it becomes that the Jets need to move a defenceman off the back-end and, particularly, one that costs a lot of money. Such a move likely makes more sense in the off-season where the enforcement of the new salary cap will take place and teams won’t have to trade strict dollar-for-dollar as they likely have to do now with so many teams jammed up against the cap ceiling.
Paging Tobias Enstrom or Dustin Byfuglien…