The Winnipeg Jets salary cap woes are a massive cloud hanging over a young and promising team. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff must find a way to fit young scorers Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor under the $81.5 million salary cap with just over $17.5 million left.
Winnipeg also must find a way to make sure the team has enough depth to contend in the Central Division. The defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues will be tough to dethrone and the Nashville Predators, Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks.
Keeping a contender together is hard and Cheveldayoff has his work cut out for him. The Jets want to keep their core together.
Winnipeg Jets Salary Cap Problems Frustrate Fan Base
Winnipeg’s fan base is clearly frustrated as it can’t seem to keep better players. Paul Stastny, Kevin Hayes, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev and Ben Chiarot have all signed or been shipped out of Manitoba in order to keep Laine and Connor.
Jared Clinton of The Hockey News tried to figure out some of the Jets’ cap issues. Laine could fetch around $8 million and Connor could get $6-7 million. That would mean Winnipeg would have to fill the leftover forward spots with bargain-basement solutions.
The Jets are also hampered by the fact that only a handful of players are waiver exempt. Cheveldayoff can’t hide salaries by sending down players to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL. Any other young player that gets put on waivers would likely get snapped up by an opposing team.
Offer Sheet Danger
Sean Reynolds of Sportsnet gave a detailed breakdown of what opposing general managers could do to damage the Jets. He harkens back to what San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson did to the Blackhawks back in 2010.
Wilson extended an offer sheet to restricted free agent defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson that put a big strain on Chicago’s salary cap. The Blackhawks did match the Hjalmarsson offer sheet but didn’t have enough money for their other free agent in Antti Niemi. Wilson signed the Finnish goalie after the Blackhawks let Niemi walk after they couldn’t match the arbitrator’s ruling.
A shrewd general manager could offer sheet one player and that would mean less money for the other RFA. Cheveldayoff’s hand could be forced with a huge offer sheet from an opposing team.
Cheveldayoff could make a deal to relieve some of the pressure on the salary cap. Someone like a Mathieu Perreault could become trade bait as getting his $4-plus million hit off the books. Dmitry Kulikov could also be one the move as makes $4.3-plus million as well. These salary cuts would allow younger and cheaper options like Kristian Vesalainen and Mason Appleton spots on the roster. However, both Perreault and Kulikov have modified no-trade clauses and would have to okay a deal.
Kulikov could also be bought out and that would give Winnipeg $2.88 million extra to play with. It may not be the perfect solution like a trade, but it does allow Cheveldayoff wiggle room.
Laine and Connor could sign bridge deals and take shorter terms a la Auston Matthews did with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It seems to be a trend that younger players might jump on and could be the happy medium that Jets fans would live with.
What it Means for the Future
Winnipeg’s drafting of players and having to jettison them due to cost is reminiscent of the Tampa Bay Rays in MLB. The Rays often find talented players in their system but must trade them to big-money teams to stay financially responsible.
The only Winnipeg can get a reprieve is if either takes a team-friendly deal. However, that seems unlikely as both want to get maximum value. In any case, the Winnipeg Jets salary cap problems don’t seem to be getting any easier.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 18: Patrik Laine #29 of the Winnipeg Jets during a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on March 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)