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The gaps and the cap

Taking stock of the Jets' assets, holes going forward

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Imagine the frustration -- let alone the pure anguish -- of putting down a ton of cash on a horse only to see it hobble to the finish line, one beast after another passing it and kicking up mud in its face along the way.

The Winnipeg Jets-in-name-only squad that fell 1-0 to the Minnesota Wild Monday night was without a pile of regulars, including captain Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Scheifele, Chris Thorburn, James Wright, Zach Bogosian, Keaton Ellerby, Grant Clitsome and Al Montoya.

And while the decent work of Michael Hutchinson in the Jets net was one of the few highlights from the loss, watching an injury-depleted lineup struggle to muster any consistent offence in front of him left most asking just one thing:

Is there any way to fast-forward to the conclusion of another disappointing season?

It also offered another chance to begin the autopsy on this crew, knowing full well there are still two games left. What will the Jets look like in 2014-15? Another good question. And with that in mind, here's a peek at what the Jets have locked up for next year and where the in the lineup must be filled through trade, draft picks/prospects from the system or through free agency:

 

A look ahead: the dollars and cents

The 2014-15 salary-cap ceiling has yet to be set, but it will likely be in the range of $69 million to $71 million.

The Jets had the 14th-highest payroll this year at $63,707,827 and ownership has always stated it will be a mid-range cap team. That likely means their payroll will go up slightly, in concert with the increase in the cap, in 2014-15.

The Jets have 16 players under contract for next season for a cap payroll of $51.575 million.

Here's a look at who is still on board:

 

Forwards locked up:

Blake Wheeler, RW: Signed through 2018-19, his cap hit jumps to $5.6 million next year. Had a career year with career numbers for a huge step forward.

Evander Kane, LW: Will have four years remaining on a deal that will make him the highest-paid Jet next season at $6 million (but with a cap hit of $5.25 million). As per usual, will be at the centre of a lot of trade gossip right through the draft and beyond, but the club must also be intrigued by the potential of a Kane-Scheifele-Wheeler trio long-term.

Dustin Byfuglien, LW/RW/D: The forward-slash-defenceman hybrid posted a career best in points with 56 and tied a career high with 20 goals. He has two years left on a deal with a cap hit of $5.2 million in 2014-15.

Andrew Ladd, LW: The Jets captain has two years remaining at $4.4 million. Shut down for this season, he has 54 points (23G, 31A) -- the second-best total in his career.

Bryan Little, C: The shift to the Western Conference only seemed to open more eyes as to the consistency of his game, although he still seems underrated. Also posted career-best numbers and has four years remaining on a deal with a $4.7 million cap hit.

Jim Slater, C: Just played his 500th game and head coach Paul Maurice likes his fit on the fourth line. One year left on a deal worth $1.6 million.

Mark Scheifele, C: One of the bright lights of the season, Scheifele was in a real groove before his year was shut down due to a knee injury. Huge upside for the 21-year-old who has his entry-level deal that will pay him $832,500.

Eric Tangradi, LW: He's big and can play big, but everyone always seems left wanting more. Another year left on current deal, which with a $675,000 cap hit next season.

Anthony Peluso, RW: He is what he is: a tough-guy fourth-liner with decent hands, better fists. Another year left at $575,000.

 

Restricted free agent forwards (Can be retained as long as the club makes a qualifying offer):

Michael Frolik, LW: Everything and then some for the Jets after being acquired from the Blackhawks on draft day 2013. Responsible and with just enough scoring touch for a spot on the team's top six. A priority to keep; earned $1.9 million this year.

Eric O'Dell, C: Has been decent as the third-line centre since Scheifele's injury. Is he good enough to take Olli Jokinen's minutes if the club moves on from the veteran Finn?

Matt Halishcuk, LW: Quiet, but steady game. Battled injuries and then struggled to stay in the lineup, but two of his five goals have come in the last six games. Earning $650,000 this year.

James Wright, LW: He carved out a spot with the Jets as a solid penalty killer, but is there room for him now with the Jets' move to playing more skill up front when down a man?

Carl Klingberg, RW: A bottom-six forward who can use his speed and size well to be effective on the forecheck. Has 20 goals in 62 games with St. John's this year.

 

Unrestricted free agent forwards (Free to sign elsewhere this summer):

Olli Jokinen, C: Veteran presence has 18 goals and 42 points, but turns 36 in December. Hard to imagine him landing another deal at $4.5 million, but if the Jets bring him back -- even at a reduced rate -- does that block the path of some of the younger prospects in the organization?

Devin Setoguchi, RW: A swing and a miss for the Jets, who gambled he'd find some of the sniper's touch he had in San Jose. Will change uniforms for the fourth time this summer.

Chris Thorburn, RW: Popular glue guy in the room, but he'll be 31 in June and the club has Peluso to do the bodyguard thing.

 

Defencemen locked up:

Toby Enstrom: Undersized, but so smart defensively and every player paired with him sees his game improve. Four years left on a deal with a $5.75-million cap hit.

Zach Bogosian: Injuries have crippled any chance of him taking the proverbial next step with his game. Locked up for another six years with an annual hit of $5.14 million.

Mark Stuart: Grit, character, leader type ideally suited for the third line. Just signed a four-year extension at $2.62 million.

Grant Clitsome: Will have to battle for his spot again when he returns from a back injury. Two years left at $2.07 million.

Jacob Trouba: Already has people across the NHL oohing and aahing about his potential. Two years left on an entry-level deal with a cap hit of $894,167.

Paul Postma: So much to like about the offensive aspects of his game. Another year remaining at $712,500.

 

Restricted free agent defencemen:

Keaton Ellerby: Capable, good size and likely a good fit on the third pairing or as a depth D-man. Had a cap hit of $735,000 this year.

Ben Chiarot: Still only 22, he drew solid reviews from IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge.

 

Unrestricted free agent defencemen:

Adam Pardy: Cranking up his game with increased minutes. Veteran, depth guy who just turned 30.

Zach Redmond: A lot to like about his game and an organization always wants defensive depth. But how many depth guys can a club carry?

 

Goaltenders locked up:

Ondrej Pavelec: His save percentage is going down, his goals-against average up. Those aren't good trends for a man whose game is under the microscope more than ever. Three years left at $3.9 million.

 

Unrestricted free agent goaltenders:

Al Montoya: Seems a perfect No. 2 goaltender. Very solid numbers this season -- 13-8-3 record, 2.30 GAA and a .920 save percentage -- but the knock on him has been durability and he finishes the year on the injured list. Very good value at $601,000.

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2014 D1

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