Jets ‘anxious’ to keep Little, who can sign extension this summer

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Bryan Little has been a consistent offensive producer since the Jets moved to Winnipeg six years ago.

And it now sounds like the organization really wants to keep him around.

Little, who had 47 points in 59 games this season — the highest points-per-game average (0.80) of his career — is heading into the last of a five-year, $23.5 million deal with a $4.7M average annual cap hit.

The 29-year-old can sign an extension on July 1, and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told Sportsnet the Jets are “anxious” to keep him in the fold.

There are a few facets worth considering.

The first is that Winnipeg’s never been a top destination for UFAs, so it’s important to retain players. That certainly was Cheveldayoff’s strategy with No. 1 center Mark Scheifele, who scored a massive eight-year, $49 million extension coming out of his entry-level contract.

That strategy can be risky, though.

Back in 2012, Winnipeg locked in Tobias Enstrom with a five-year, $28.75 million deal. At $5.75 million per, it’s since become something of an albatross. Enstrom has struggled with consistency and health, missing a combined 54 games over the last three seasons, and now faces questions about waiving his no-movement clause so he can be exposed at the expansion draft.

Cheveldayoff has, however, shown some flexibility when it comes to how he retains his players. Like with Dustin Byfuglien‘s deal. Byfuglien sacrificed term — signing a five-year pact rather than the max eight — but, by doing so, netted himself a contract that pays $7.6M annually.

Perhaps this could be the play with Little. Though he’s been a consistent producer and is now one of the club’s veteran leaders, he’s also had health issues over the last two years and turns 30 in November.

A shorter-term contract is a viable solution, but one that could be pricey for the Jets.