LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 04: Head Coach Peter DeBoer (C) and Assistant Coach Adam Oates (R) of the New Jersey Devils look on from the bench area in front of cardboard cut-outs of the cast members of Jersey Shore in the first period of Game Three of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on June 4, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have quite the conundrum on their hands.
It’s nothing earth-shattering. It’s one of those problems you can file on the good-headache-to-have category, but it’s still something that needs to be addressed, one way or another.
The man central to the issue is center Paul Stastny
He’s the guy no one knew was coming to Winnipeg at the trade deadline until Kevin Cheveldayoff shipped a first rounder and a prospect to the St. Louis Blues to get, shortly after Blues general manager Doug Armstrong dangled Stastny in front of the playoff-charging Jets.
Everything clicked as soon as Stastny donned the Jets sweater in late February. The son of Hall of Famer Peter meshed immediately with superstar sniper Patrik Laine and the dancing Dane, Nikolaj Ehlers — two pillars of Winnipeg’s seemingly bright future.
Stastny slid perfectly in between the duo, providing a center that could play with the two gifted wingers. Stastny knew his role and played it well: feed the men on either side of him.
Laine and Ehlers gushed about Stastny, providing joy to the team and to fans alike.
The deal of the trade deadline was so satisfying that Jets are working hard to find a way to keep the goods for good.
And therein lies the problem.
How does a team with such a bevy of talent that needs to get paid to afford a player that’s tough to fit on the ledger?
CapFriendly will show that the Jets are currently at roughly $54.5 million when it comes to the salary cap. We know the cap will increase to $79.5 million this season, meaning the Jets have some $25 million to play with (and actually less when you consider they could have around $4 million in entry-level contract bonuses to pay out.)
To someone unaware of what the Jets are facing, it looks easy to fit Stastny in. But the Jets have 16 total restricted free agents, nine of which were on the team for most of the year and seven more in the minors.
And not all of them are low-priced restricted free agents either.
Winnipeg’s top pairing on defense in Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba need money, too. They’re one of the best shutdown duos in the league. Trouba is looking long-term and for big money, while Cheveldayoff may be able to get Morrissey to sign a bridge. Either way, the money needs to be spent.
The Jets then need to lock up third-line center Adam Lowry, wingers Joel Armia and Brandon Tanev and defenseman Tucker Poolman and Joe Morrow while also figuring out what to do with Marko Dano and several aforementioned minor leaguers (who only count if they play in the Show.)
Stastny isn’t looking to play for a pittance, of course, so there are some scenarios that must occur to make this work.
Let’s delve into them.
Trade money away
The best way to make room is to clean out some space.
There are some options here for the Jets. Names that immediately come to mind are Trouba’s fellow d-man Tyler Myers, who’s cap hit for the Jets is $5.5 million per year, forward Mathieu Perreault at $4.125 million a year and goalie Steve Mason at $4.1 million with one year left on his two-year $8.2 million deal.
Trading Trouba isn’t desirable. He’s far too valuable an asset, but the Jets also have a kid named Sami Niku, who captured the American Hockey League’s best defenseman award in his rookie season, looking to earn a roster spot this season. If Trouba’s demands are too high, it might become the best option, but likely not until the 2019-20 season.
Myers is getting a lot for a third-pairing defenseman, but Jets head coach loves himself some Myers. Myers will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, however, and the Jets won’t be able to afford him at his current price point then regardless. Moving Myers would be an option that makes the most sense if there’s a market for him. He’s a big man capable of playing a lot of minutes, and there are teams that need that, so it’s surely a possibility if the Jets are willing to explore it.
That said, and as already mentioned, Maurice likes Myers and uses him a lot on the penalty kill, on the second power-play unit and Maurice has already chatted with Myers, a right-hand shot, moving to the left side this season to perhaps play with Dustin Byfuglien with Toby Enstrom departing as a free agent.
It’s unlikely a team will want to risk paying Mason after his injury-plagued season. And trading Perreault, who can play anywhere in the lineup and make any linemates better, shouldn’t make sense from an organizational standpoint. He’s too valuable, even if he’s a little overpaid.
Wizardry on the balance sheet
Figuring this out seems a futile endeavor.
There are a lot of unknowns with the RFAs right now. At this point, the Jets have just seven players signed to contracts past next season.
If Cheveldayoff could just get every player he possesses to sign Mark Scheifele-type deals, the Jets would have a better team than they already do. But that’s just not the case.
Sure, Morrissey may take a bridge. Lowry might, too. But Trouba likely won’t, and even if he heads to arbitration, will make more than the $3 million he’s commanding on his current bridge contract.
Hellebuyck needs to be paid like the elite level goalie he is.
It’s tight, to say the least.
Sign Stastny short-term
Hockey Analytics guru Matt Cane’s prediction of Stastny’s next contract is three years at roughly $5.4 million annually.
The problem for the Jets isn’t the 2018-19 season, it’s the one after.
With Winnipeg’s biggest contract — Laine — still a year away from kicking in, and with the shedding of other contracts at the end of next season — Myers’ $5.5 million, potentially Blake Wheeler’s $5.6 million and Mason’s $4.1 million — the Jets could give Stastny a home for a reasonable price on a deal that would make sense for all parties.
Wheeler is going to want a big raise after his 91-point season, but he’ll be 33 after next season and may price himself out of Winnipeg.
But if Wheeler stays, it’s not crazy to think that Wheeler, Laine and Connor could make well over $20 million combined beginning in the 2019-20 season.
Breakup and remain friends
As good as the fling was between Stastny and the Jets, getting him signed might just not make sense in the end.
Laine needs a center. So does Ehlers. Roslovic could grow into that role. The Jets were a better team with Stastny, but have young players become a year older and better by the same token.
It was good while it lasted, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
Long story short
Much of this is guesswork. We look at the cap, we look at the players and we try to figure out what makes the most sense.
Simply, if Stastny wants to stay in Winnipeg, he needs to take less money and less term.
The benefit of him being in Winnipeg is he gets to play next to Laine and on a team that appears to have a solid window that’s open for a few runs at the Stanley Cup.
If he wants long-term security, he will look elsewhere. There will be no shortage of suitors willing to pay more, and for longer, for a productive center.
Potential unrestricted free agent John Tavares will begin meeting with the teams on his shortlist on Monday. According to The Athletic writers Arthur Staple and Pierre LeBrun, that list includes: the Islanders, Maple Leafs, Stars, Sharks, Bruins and Lightning are the six teams he’ll visit with.
There’s pros and cons that are attached to every NHL city, so let’s take a look at those points for each of the team’s Tavares is reportedly considering.
• New York Islanders
Pros: Well, for starters, there’s some familiarity there. Tavares has spent his entire career with the Isles, so there has to be a certain value attached to that. But beyond familiarity, there’s other reasons he might stay.
Mathew Barzal would be one. He put up some impressive offensive totals during his first full year in the NHL and he’ll only get better as his career advances.
The Islanders have also added a Stanley Cup winning coach in Barry Trotz and they’ve made major changes to their front office that now has Lou Lamoriello as general manager. Those changes have seemingly helped the odds of Tavares re-signing with his current team.
New York also has the most cap space in the league right now, as they can spend over $32 million this summer (that will change if Tavares re-signs).
Cons: Tavares has been with the Islanders for almost a decade and they still haven’t been able to go on a long playoff run. Yes, there are new people in charge, but the roster will remain the same as it was last year.
Speaking of the roster, the Isles still don’t have a number one goalie and they have a hard time keeping the puck out of their own net. That was a major issue last season. Tavares can’t fix everything.
The Isles also have that unique arena situation. They’re getting a new arena but splitting games between two different venues is far from ideal, no matter how convenient the team tries to make it. Who knows how he feels about that?
• Toronto Maple Leafs
Pros: Tavares was born in Mississauga, Ontario, so going to play for the Leafs would be a type of homecoming for him. Going back there might not be a priority for him, but it can’t hurt.
The Leafs have built a team with a solid young core that includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Jake Gardiner. Tavares wouldn’t have to go to Toronto and be the go-to guy, he could go there and be one of the guys.
Although they haven’t had much playoff success over the last decade, adding Tavares would clearly take them to another level. He has to be aware of that.
Cons: Although Toronto is “home” for him, he also knows that it comes with a ton of media pressure. It might not be enough of a reason for him to stay away from the Leafs, but it’s definitely not a selling point.
Like the Islanders, there’s no denying that the Leafs have an issue on defense. It might not be as bad as the situation in New York, but the team isn’t good enough on the blue line right now and adding Tavares won’t fix that.
The Leafs haven’t won a playoff series in quite some time (2004), so if he’s looking for a team that has had playoff success lately, Toronto isn’t the place.
There’s also a bit of unknown with new GM Kyle Dubas. How will the rookie general manager adapt to his new responsibilities? It appears as though he’ll be fine, but we really won’t know for a couple of years.
• Dallas Stars
Pros: The Stars have a dynamic attack led by Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. Adding Tavares to that mix would make them even more dangerous. That has to be enticing for the 27-year-old. Oh, and they also have John Klingberg on the blue line doesn’t hurt.
Like the Isles, the Stars also have a new head coach in Jim Montgomery. Obviously, he’s not as proven as Trotz, but he was in demand this spring.
Who doesn’t like money? The fact that there’s no state income tax in Texas is a huge plus for a guy who’s about to sign a long-term deal worth a lot of cash.
If you hate winter, the weather isn’t too shabby, either.
Cons: As talented as Dallas’ attack is, they’ve missed the playoffs in back-to-seasons and in eight of the last 10 years. Adding Tavares to the roster helps, but a lot of their shortcomings are things he can’t fix (like in Toronto and in New York).
The Stars have $19.8 million in cap space right now, but they only have 14 players under contract right now. Adding Tavares will cost roughly $12 million per year, so how much money will be left over to fix the rest of the issues on the roster?
No disrespect to Dallas, but it’s not a traditional hockey market. If that’s one of the things Tavares is looking for, he won’t find it there.
• San Jose Sharks
Pros: Sharks GM Doug Wilson has created almost $19 million in cap space for his team to make a serious push at Tavares. Unlike the Stars, the Sharks already have 19 players under contract for 2018-19.
The Sharks have also made it to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, and they’ve gone at least two rounds in two of those years. That’s not too shabby given the parity in the NHL.
It’s California, baby!
Cons: That appearance in the Stanley Cup Final seems like it was a lifetime ago. Can they get back to that level if Tavares signs there? That remains to be seen.
The core players aren’t exactly spring chickens. Couture (29), Pavelski (33), Thornton (38), Burns (33) and Vlasic (31) are all close to 30 or over 30. Tavares would step in and become the youngest player of the bunch.
Kane and Melker Karlsson are the only forwards signed beyond next season. If things don’t work out this year, how different will the team look starting in 2020?
• Boston Bruins
Pros: The Bruins proved to be one of the better teams in the league from November on. Bruce Cassidy had them playing smart and fast hockey. If they could get Tavares to buy in to what they’re selling, that would be unreal.
This could be good or bad, but Tavares wouldn’t have to play on the top line if he joins the Bruins. Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand have incredible chemistry, so teams will focus most of their attention on them. That would leave Tavares with some juicy matchups.
Boston also has an incredible group of young talent and strong prospects coming through their pipeline. So even though they have older guys, there is a fresh batch of talent coming through the pipeline. Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and company could make the decision easier for Tavares.
Cons: Tavares is still one of the elite players in the NHL. How would he feel to playing second fiddle to the top line? There’s plenty of ice time and power play time to go around, but it’s still something that has to be considered. He’s been the top guy on his team since the day he stepped onto NHL ice.
As of right now, the Bruins have under $12 million in cap space. Sure, moves can be made, but they also have potential free agents that they’d like to bring back (Riley Nash being one). They have to add a backup goaltender if they let Anton Khudobin walk, too.
• Tampa Bay Lightning
Pros: Look at the Lightning’s roster, they’re stacked. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej, Palat, Tyler Johnson, Brayden Point, J.T. Miller, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Can you imagine if they add Tavares?
It’s not a traditional hockey market, but their recent success has given them quite a bit of national attention over the last couple of years. He still wouldn’t have to deal with a crazy amount of media on a daily basis.
Yes, weather and a lack of a state income tax comes into play here, too.
They’ve also gone at least three rounds in three of the last four years.
Cons: For whatever reason, the Lightning haven’t been able to get over the hump. Sure, they’ve been to the conference final three times in four years, but they’ve come up just short.
Tampa also has $10.5 million in cap space and they still have to re-sign Miller and a couple of role players.
The first big free agent re-signing with his own team is just the beginning of the frenzy that’s to come around the NHL.
Defenseman John Carlson signed a $64 million, eight-year deal with the Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals. His agent and the representatives for other pending unrestricted free agents were able to start talking to any interested teams on Sunday at the beginning of the negotiating window that precedes the opening of the market July 1.
Serious talks between New York Islanders center John Tavares and five suitors begin Monday in what should be the next step in shaking out signings and trades.
”There’s going to be a lot happening,” Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Saturday in Dallas. ”Things have sort of been at a standstill around the league, but I think with the free agent market being opened up to be able to have discussions with the agents, that will help, as well. Once you talk, you have an idea that you’re going to be able to get a free agent or if you won’t, then it might sort of move some teams to start looking at potential trades.”
Only a handful of current NHL players were traded over the weekend at the draft: four in a swap between Carolina and Calgary and Washington sending two to Colorado to clear salary-cap space to re-sign Carlson. Montreal could still try to trade captain Max Pacioretty this week, and Hurricanes GM Don Waddell wants to make a move for a goaltender and said there’s a lot of interest in winger Jeff Skinner.
”We have a lot of other possibilities, pieces to move around,” Waddell said.
With Tavares headlining this free agent class, the possibilities are endless.
His decision – reportedly among the Sharks, Maple Leafs, Stars, incumbent Islanders and perhaps one other team – could set up the rest of the market. Paul Stastny is the next-best free agent center available followed by the likes of Tyler Bozak, Derek Ryan and Tomas Plekanec, and teams that don’t land one of them could turn to Buffalo’s Ryan O'Reilly, who may be a better candidate to be traded July 2 after the Sabres pay him a $7.5 million bonus.
The Sharks are worth watching this week after they shed Mikkel Boedker‘s $4 million salary to clear cap space and watched as Ilya Kovalchuk signed with Los Angeles on a three-year, $18.75 million deal. After saying San Jose will spend much of its space to re-sign players, GM Doug Wilson acknowledged there will still be plenty of room to add the difference-maker he’s looking for.
Asked if he thinks he’ll be able to land that difference-maker by the afternoon of July 1, Wilson smirked and said: ”The fifth is my birthday. Ask me then.”
By July 5, most of the hockey community will be preparing for vacation. The real fun comes over the next week.
Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, Vegas’ James Neal and David Perron, Boston’s Rick Nash, Columbus’ Thomas Vanek and New Jersey’s Patrick Maroon are among the wingers available. Carlson staying with Washington leaves Detroit’s Mike Green, Dallas’ Dan Hamhuis and Columbus’ Ian Cole at the top of the list of defensemen available.
”There are some free agents out there that we like,” said Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, whose team shifted toward a rebuild this past season. ”We’re in a pretty good spot to talk to as many free agents that we can that we like and we’ll go forward that way.”
Unlike New York, which had been in win-now mode for a while, the expansion Golden Knights were supposed to be building slowly toward becoming a perennial playoff contender. After reaching the Cup final in their first season, they could use an overflowing amount of cap space this offseason – though GM George McPhee doesn’t want to overpromise and under-deliver.
”You just never know with these things and whether we’ll do anything at all or do something,” McPhee said. ”You’re sort of venturing into an area where there’s all kinds of things going on and you don’t know how it’s going to go. There’s no urgency for us to do anything. We like the team we have, we like the model we have. If we can make it better by doing something that makes sense, then we’ll do it.”
• There’s a good chance that the Vegas Golden Knights won’t be able to bring back James Neal and David Perron. Both players will become unrestricted free agents on July 1st if they don’t re-sign. (Sportsnet)
• Signing John Tavares won’t be easy for the Toronto Maple Leafs because they have to pay Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner soon, but could they entice him with a one-year deal worth almost $16 million? (TSN.ca)
• Flames Nation takes a deeper look at the potential reasons why Hamilton was shipped out of town. It’s entirely possible that there were issues in the locker room after all. (Flames Nation)
• ESPN writers Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski look at the winners and losers of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Of course, Gary Bettman ended up on this list more than once. (ESPN)
• Now that the draft has come and gone, Sens prospect Brady Tkachuk has to decide if he’s going to turn pro or return to Boston University. (Ottawa Sun)
• It’s unclear when Canadiens prospect Jesperi Kotkaniemi will sign his entry-level deal, but Habs Eyes on the Prize takes a deeper look at what that contract may look like (Habs Eyes on the Prize)
• The New York Rangers had a solid draft weekend, as they added some quality prospects to their pipeline. (Blue Seat Blogs)
• You may have missed this one on Friday, but the Anaheim Ducks fired assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk. (Anaheim Calling)
• Late on Sunday night, the Detroit Red Wings traded Robbie Russo to the Arizona Coyotes. (Winging it in Motown)