Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets forwards among cellar-dwellers in payroll, goals scored

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Those at the edge of the bandwagon and ready to jump off as well as those cursing up a blue streak over the Winnipeg Jets' lack of offensive finish should keep one thing in mind before they say or do anything more that they'll regret.

You get what you pay for.

And right now, an easy survey of NHL salaries and payrolls reveals something fairly predictable: Winnipeg is in the bottom three of the 30-team league in terms of what the team has shelled out for forwards.

The Jets' cap hit for their collection of forwards is $25.48 million and only the Carolina Hurricanes and Phoenix Coyotes had smaller cap hits, barely, for their forwards groups as of Monday. And if you simply considered Monday's active rosters for those respective teams, the Jets would be at the bottom because left-winger Evander Kane, out seven games with a concussion, is a $3-million cap hit and was on the injured-reserve list.

Kane may return tonight when the Jets face the Toronto Maple Leafs at the MTS Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290) but only a fool would think that's going to solve the matter of Winnipeg's sagging offence.

With an average of 2.39 goals per game and falling, the Jets are now among the five lowest-scoring teams in the NHL.

Since scoring a whopping three goals in an overtime shootout loss to Florida on Jan. 21, they have accumulated five regulation goals in their last six games.

The lack of forward payroll isn't necessarily by design, however predictable the production might be.

The transplanted Atlanta Thrashers were not known to be a big goals machine, at 2.8 goals per game over the last two seasons, and the club is little-changed that way for 2011-12 in Winnipeg.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has said repeatedly he would do nothing hastily and wanted time this season to assess all areas of the team.

All of that said, money is not the simple solution to the problem.

Handing out raises will not bring more goals this week or next.

And no, before you bring it up, the Jets did not re-up captain Andrew Ladd over the summer -- to the tune of $22 million over five years -- so he would start filling nets around the league.

Simply acquiring more expensive players is another superficial idea that nobody at True North, including Cheveldayoff, is likely to try.

It's not the most pleasant news to discover, if indeed discover is the right word, but at least the new Jets brass is learning what's in the stable.

Jets coach Claude Noel said as much on Monday.

"This is another level, since the all-star break and even after Christmas," Noel said. "For example, your top line, can they produce at the level they were before? They're getting more attention. They're getting more physicality, so now that puts stress on other lines, and can they step it up? You're starting to see how it goes.

"You can't function at the same rate. You're getting less power plays per game. It's great. It's what we need to see and learn."

Noel wasn't a man without hope on Monday, however.

He said there's "always ways to win games," and mentioned the world resiliency.

"If you don't have enough, you become reliant on the group," the coach said. "That's how you have to play."

One obvious solution is that the Jets would spend money to reward production but, so far, there's been precious little of that on the current roster. In particular, Kane's second contract, which will be negotiated this summer, will have a lot to do with how the rest of this season goes.

The exact fit of any player and the overall organizational structure to remain a franchise somewhere near the middle of the NHL's allowed salary range are priorities for Cheveldayoff.

He might have some money to spend in the days preceding the league's trading deadline or at the next free-agency window, but high skill and pure offence are not items you just choose on the store shelves.

Besides, the Jets already have some of those.

Just at another position.

Winnipeg, on a percentage of payroll, was No. 1 in the NHL according to a recent list in The Hockey News in terms of money spent on defencemen, with more than 42 per cent of the payroll spent for that position.

Currently, the Jets have a $22.7-million cap hit for their blue-line. Only Philadelphia and the L.A. Kings have a higher hit for 2011-12, but keep in mind the Flyers' number includes Chris Pronger's $4.9 million cap hit and he's out for the season.

And it's worth saying here that money spent is no sure-fire road to winning.

Look at this season's Columbus Blue Jackets ($38.670 million spent on forwards) or Buffalo Sabres ($40.834) or Montreal Canadiens ($36.275 million) if you need evidence.

It's matching or exceeding the value to the money spent that's the magic combination in the NHL. One day or one trade or one contract worth of action never makes that happen.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

NHL teams' cap hits

in millions

Forwards

Buffalo 40.834

Washington 39.915

Columbus 38.670

Pittsburgh 38.290

Los Angeles 37.013

Vancouver 36.978

Montreal 36,275

New York Rangers 36.254

San Jose 36.029

Boston 36.008

Tampa Bay 35.640

Philadelphia 34.502

Toronto 34.323

Detroit 34.034

New Jersey 34.004

Chicago 33.998

Edmonton 33.686

Minnesota 33.955

St. Louis 33.454

Anaheim 32.285

Florida 31.059

Calgary 30.932

Dallas 29.369

Colorado 28.207

New York Islanders 27.960

Ottawa 26.742

Nashville 26.254

Winnipeg 25.480

Phoenix 25.332

Carolina 24.418

 

Top-10 defence, in millions

Philadelphia 24.027*

Los Angeles 23.238

Winnipeg 22.743

Washington 22.562

Phoenix 22.720

Toronto 22.036

Vancouver 21.225

Detroit 20.958

Chicago 20.830

Calgary 20.345

 

Top three goalies, in millions

New York Rangers 7.963

Carolina 7.579

Philadelphia 7.417

 

Bottom five goalies, in millions

Detroit 3.199

Toronto 3.15

Los Angeles 3.05

Winnipeg 3.00

Washington 2.65

* includes Chris Pronger's $4.9 million cap hit; Pronger is out for the season.

-- Source: nhlnumbers.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2012 C1

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