The Winnipeg Jets Work in Free Agency Will Shape Their Future

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 05: Winnipeg Jets left wing Kyle Connor (81) and Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine (29) talk during the NHL game between the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning on March 05, 2019 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - MARCH 05: Winnipeg Jets left wing Kyle Connor (81) and Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine (29) talk during the NHL game between the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning on March 05, 2019 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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The Winnipeg Jets have quite a few impending free agents, and they’ve traded for a couple more, including a key player who looks like a substantial upgrade to the team. Can they make the right decisions?

The Winnipeg Jets are approaching the Chicago Blackhawks conundrum. Well, they don’t have multiple cups, which is a bummer, but the basis is the same: Cap space.

They have such a deep and talented roster that, at some point, they won’t be able to keep them all. We already saw them ditch Joel Armia in the offseason for a little wiggle room.

The team also extended Blake Wheeler (looking pretty good right about now) and Connor Hellebuyck, who they couldn’t really afford to watch leave.

Just this offseason, the Jets will see Andrew Copp, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Jacob Trouba and Laurent Brossoit become restricted free agents.

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Nathan Beaulieu and Joseph Morrow will join them among lesser players. Brandon Tanev, Kevin Hayes, Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers will be unrestricted free agents. That’s quite a bit of work for a team with limited cap space.

With my (admittedly poor) estimate, the Jets will have a little over $20MM in cap space this offseason, which sounds good. But it’ll be eaten up quickly with the contracts of Connor and Laine, not to mention Trouba.

Tyler Myers, although useful, looks like he might take a pay cut from his $5.5MM hit, but who knows. Someone else might overpay for him. He might not want to return to Winnipeg. I couldn’t say.

Building a championship team isn’t just about high-end talent. You need depth. The Jets look to finish markedly worse than they did last year, and depth along the blueline (mostly due to injuries) and solid defensive depth in the bottom six (mostly due to young players) has suffered.

Also, Patrik Laine did the Jets a financial favor by defecating between the sheets for half of the year. I know the Jets like Bryan Little, but they also know his limitations.

They acquired a center to replace him on the second line two seasons in a row. A buyout has to be a consideration, with five more seasons at a $5.29MM cap hit. That money is just too important to the Jets.

They need to keep players like Brandon Tanev and Andrew Copp. They’re valuable guys on the bottom six who might want to try to parlay their success with Winnipeg to a bigger role with better money on a different team. I don’t blame them one bit.

But the Jets have a difficult line to tow. They need to make the right decisions, keeping the right players at the right prices. Overpaying would be an outright problem. Letting players go could be disastrous if they don’t have adequate replacements.

Injuries aside, you don’t want to have to acquire a center, several defensemen and a couple bottom six guys at the deadline each season.

Kevin Hayes has really looked like a massive upgrade for the Jets. Despite their recent poor play, I remain hopeful he (and better health) will help right the ship.

The team’s too talented to play like the Detroit Red Wings for the rest of the year. A first round exit looked likely about a week ago, but that would be an incredible disappointment.

Hayes has five points in five games since coming over, and his forechecking, power forward style has worked wonders on the second line. The Jets have paired him with Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers, moving Laine up to benefit from the greatness of Mark Scheifele / Blake Wheeler.

It seems like it’s working pretty well, but the schedule doesn’t get easier. My focus is on this season, as I assume the team is also. But like the front office, I’m also worried about the future.

I’m assuming, since the Jets wanted to re-sign Paul Stastny after last year, they’ll look to sign Hayes long-term. He looks like an even better fit for the team. Will he want to? Will they be able to offer him what someone else might?

dark. Next. How Badly Would I Hurt the Jets?

This is just one of the questions that keeps me up at night. The NHL is fickle. Your window could be open one year and slammed shut the next. You gotta capitalize while you can.