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Winnipeg’s Paul Stastny problem

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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.

Connor Hellebuyck set several records on his way to being voted as the runner-up to Pekka Rinne for the Vezina Trophy.

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.)

[On Paul Stastny and his impact with the Jets]

That $25 million goes quick, and the Jets will have Kyle Connor, who led all rookies with 31 goals, versatile forward Jack Roslovic and, of course, Laine to pay coming up as well.

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.

As we saw this weekend with the Washington Capitals, they needed to move Brooks Orpik’s $5.5 million cap hit to make way for John Carlson’s eight-year, $64 million extension.

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.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Bruins’ biggest question: Is the blue line good enough?

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It was no coincidence that the Bruins missed the playoffs after trading Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders in October.

Boychuk’s departure left a big hole in Boston’s top four, one that became even more pronounced when Zdeno Chara was injured a short time later.

Now consider that young Dougie Hamilton is gone from the B’s, too. Last season, Hamilton led all Boston d-men with 42 points in 72 games, while logging an average of 21:20 per game.

Minus Boychuk and Hamilton, the Bruins have been left with Chara, who’s 38, Dennis Seidenberg, who’s 34, plus Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Matt Irwin, Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, and Colin Miller.

Of those nine defensemen, only two — Chara and Seidenberg, neither young anymore — have ever averaged more than 20 minutes per game in a full NHL season.

Hence, the ongoing speculation that GM Don Sweeney will sign a veteran free agent, someone like Cody Franson, Christian Ehrhoff, or Marek Zidlicky. (The B’s were believed to be in talks with Mike Green, before he signed with Detroit.)

But regardless if that happens or not, expect the Bruins to make some tweaks to their system.

“At times, we probably got a little bit too stationary on our breakouts,” Sweeney said, per the Boston Globe. “We need to be in motion a little bit.”

Of course, for any system to be successful, it needs the right horses. And as it stands today, the Bruins’ stable of defensemen is more questionable than it’s been in quite some time.

Related: Vote on whether the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window has closed

Looking to make the leap: Zach Trotman

For the second straight season, the Boston Bruins must absorb the loss of a key right-shot defenseman after Dougie Hamilton was traded to Calgary.

That prospect is unsettling for the Bruins’ short-term outlook, but it opens the door for young players to sink or swim. Torey Krug may be getting the most prominent bump from this situation, but more will be expected from youngsters like Zach Trotman.

Bruins head coach Claude Julien said as much while discussing new GM Don Sweeney’s tweaks in late June.

“I can’t go into the year saying it’s going to be tough, I need to be optimistic, I need to believe,” said Julien. “We have guys who can skate, the Joe Morrows are down there, the [Zach] Trotmans, and there’s some more time here to maybe add if we need to.”

Trotman, 24, has already got his feet wet a bit at the NHL level, playing in 27 games in 2014-15. He also played a couple in 2013-14.

The blueliner only averaged 16:24 minutes of ice time last season, but people seemed impressed with how he handled an elevated role after Hamilton was injured in late March.

While Krug may carry a heavier burden, Trotman could very well enjoy a prominent role as Zdeno Chara’s partner, as the Boston Globe noted. That’s already quite the accomplishment for a guy who was “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 2010 NHL Draft, going 210th overall out of Lake Superior State University.

Trotman isn’t the only young guy to watch on the blue line, as Joe Morrow and Colin Miller (another right-handed shot) may also get their chances.

Meanwhile, up front, Bruins fans will definitely be curious to see if Alexander Khokhlachev can make the leap from AHL star to NHL regular.

B’s among five or six teams in on Franson, who’s ‘sick of doing one-year deals’

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One of the biggest fish left in free agency says more than a few lines have been cast his way.

Cody Franson, the 27-year-old UFA defenseman that’s still yet to sign, says he’s been speaking with five or six teams about possibly signing — a group that includes the Boston Bruins.

“With the trade they made with [Dougie] Hamilton and some of the other stuff they’ve done, they’re one of the teams that we’re in talks with,” Franson told TSN 1040 Vancouver on Tuesday. “Boston would be an interesting spot. It’s obviously an awesome city, and they’ve got a great organization and all those things that come with it.”

It’s not surprising Boston’s in the mix. The club’s blueline has been badly depleted since going to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 — gone from that team are Hamilton, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Matt Bartkowski. That’s left the B’s in a rather precarious spot; if the season started today, Boston’s top-four would be comprised of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid.

Zach Trotman, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow and Matt Irwin would (presumably) be battling for spots Nos. 5 and 6.

Franson’s also a good fit to replace Hamilton. Both are rangy, right-hand shots with offensive upside… thing is, it might not work financially. The Bruins have just under $5 million in available cap space, and it sounds like Franson is looking for a deal with a fair amount of money — and something more long-term.

“Obviously, I’d like to get something a little more than one year,” he said. “I’m sick of doing one-year deals.”

Per an earlier report from PHT’s Dhiren Mahiban, it’s believed Pittsburgh and Buffalo are also interested in Franson.

Julien ‘pretty impressed’ with Sweeney’s moves

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Claude Julien has a weaker roster today than he did entering the draft. Gone in separate trades are Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, in return for prospects.

But the Bruins’ head coach struck a supportive tone late Friday when asked about his rookie general manager, Don Sweeney.

“First of all, I think you’ve got to give Don a lot of credit,” Julien said, per the Bruins’ website. “He’s come into this in this role and there was a lot on his plate, and a lot going on, and there were some tough decisions to be made, and personally, I’m pretty impressed with how he’s handled it.

“And that’s not to say that I’m happy that Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic are gone – we just lost two pretty good players, but those are moves that probably had to be made, obviously with the situation we’re in with the cap and everything else and the future.”

The decision to trade Hamilton was the most surprising. Sweeney offered a cryptic response when asked yesterday for an explanation.

“I think everyone considers Dougie as a foundational-type player,” said Sweeney, “and it was indicated to us that that might not be the case going forward in Boston.”

Regardless of why Hamilton left, the Bruins’ defense, a group that struggled last season to make up for the loss of Johnny Boychuk, will now have to try and make up for another big loss.

Sweeney called it “a great opportunity” for some of the “kids” on Boston’s defense — a sentiment with which his coach agreed.

“I can’t go into the year saying it’s going to be tough, I need to be optimistic, I need to believe,” said Julien. “We have guys who can skate, the Joe Morrows are down there, the [Zach] Trotmans, and there’s some more time here to maybe add if we need to.”