The Winnipeg Jets and Michael Frolik agreed to one more season, but really the clock has now begun to tick on whether the player stays in Winnipeg long term or is traded at the deadline next March.
Frolik and the Jets had a salary arbitration hearing set for Thursday but avoided that potentially messy process, agreeing Tuesday morning to a one-year contract worth $3.3 million.
A five-year contract was discussed at length, and while both sides won't say what the stumbling block was, you can be guaranteed it was money.
Frolik may be a top-six forward with the Jets at this stage, but in the big picture, he's a third-line player.
On a bad team, Frolik can push for top-line work, but on a top team, such his previous club, the Chicago Blackhawks, he's in the bottom six.
No doubt the player's representation wanted top-six money and the Jets were more comfortable paying third-line dollars. Frolik scored 15 goals last season and at 26 there should be no expectation that he's going to radically change as a player. He's a useful two-way player, and he should be paid as such.
Frolik will now have some time to prove he's worth the money his agent asked for or settle for closer to what the Jets are offering. Or he can walk and get overpaid on July 1. There is little downside to Frolik's position after Tuesday's announcement.
The upshot here is Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has bought himself some time, but not much.
A long-term contract can't be agreed upon until Jan. 1 per the CBA and the trade deadline comes in early March. This will be Frolik's last contract as a restricted free agent and if a new agreement isn't reached prior to July 1, 2015, he'll be unrestricted and free to sign with any of the NHL's 30 teams.
Cheveldayoff, however, will now attempt to get Frolik to agree to a longer term. If those talks fail to bear fruit for Winnipeg, Cheveldayoff will flip him at the deadline.
Frolik would likely bring in a prospect or a combination of second- and third-round picks if trading him became the only option. His pending UFA status come March would mitigate his value.
If the Jets are firmly in a playoff position when trading must cease, moving Frolik will prove sticky.
For now, both sides say they intend to keep the player in Winnipeg.
"We've had many, many discussion's with Michael's agent (Allan Walsh) about a multi-year deal," said Cheveldayoff. "We both felt it was best to agree to a one-year deal at this time and continue conversations as we move forward."
Cheveldayoff and Walsh agreed a longer-term arrangement was in the offing, but neither would say what got in the way of further progress.
"It's tough to characterize without getting into the nuance of every detail of the discussions," said Cheveldayoff. "I don't think either side is interested in getting into what the actual conversations were. Those things remain private. The conversations were very open and candid and productive. It's a matter of fact we don't have a longer-term contract in place, but if the arbitration process wasn't what it was, we'd still be talking."
Frolik controls his fate now. Put up strong numbers and earn a flush deal or maximize his UFA potential.
There is minimal risk for Frolik. One might argue if he doesn't have a strong season his value dips. But a player like Frolik, where his game is about far more than points scored, is far less susceptible to a market correction.
"We talked about a lot of different concepts and spent a lot of time together, Chevy and I," said Walsh. "We talked about a two-year deal, a three-year deal, a four-year deal and a five-year deal. We spent most of our time talking about a one-year deal and a five-year deal... We worked hard on a five-year deal and at the end of the day, we couldn't get there. For now. But I want to make it very clear, Michael loves Winnipeg. He loves playing in Winnipeg. Michael told Winnipeg that he would love to sign long term and be part of what is getting built in Winnipeg."
Frolik, had 15 goals and 27 assists last season.
But those numbers belie the true value of Frolik. The Jets don't have enough players like him. He works hard, plays smart and puts the team first. He's skilled, fit and versatile. There's lots to like about Frolik.
Is he a five-year and $25-million player? Well, he wasn't this week.
We'll see what he's worth in January.
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