Jets will pay a price for collecting chips in Vegas
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/06/2016 (2418 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg Jets owners Mark Chipman and David Thomson are going to be owed a very large cheque after the NHL’s expected announcement on Wednesday that it’s expanding 31 teams by granting a franchise to Las Vegas for the 2017-18 season.
But that one-time financial windfall for the owners is going to come at a steep price for the hockey team.
First, the good news — Las Vegas mogul Bill Foley is paying the NHL a reported record US$500 million expansion fee and the Jets ownership is going to receive some of it.
While no one is saying how that money will be broken down and distributed — Chipman turned down an interview request through a spokesman this week — let’s assume for today’s purposes that each of the NHL’s existing 30 teams, plus the league office, will get an equal share.
Divide $500 million by 31 and you’ve got US$16.1 million or $20.6 million loonies at Tuesday’s exchange rate.
Nice. How many zeros were on your last bonus cheque? What’s a bonus cheque?
Alas, there’s no such thing as free money. While their portion of the expansion fee will come as a big bonus for a small-market team like the Jets, adding Vegas also means that the club will be getting a smaller piece of the league-revenue pie, which is filled with such things as big TV contracts.
The hope, of course, is that if league revenues continue to grow as they have been, and it won’t matter. And there’s also, of course, the possibility of more NHL expansion down the road, including in Quebec City, which is being passed over in this round.
But then there’s the price the Jets are going to pay on the ice because of expansion — and that can’t be dismissed as easily.
For starters, the addition of a 15th team in the Western Conference is going to make it even tougher to qualify for the playoffs.
More worrying is the matter of an expansion draft that some think is going to hit the Jets as hard — or even harder — than any team in the league.
Last week, the Washington Post listed the Jets as one of five teams that stand to lose the most out of an expansion draft that, from all reports, is going to be very generous to Vegas to ensure the new club hits the ice skating.
We’ll get a better idea of the rules Wednesday, but much has already leaked. Here are some highlights, via the Globe and Mail:
• Vegas will draft one player from each team and no team can lose more than one player.
• Existing teams can protect either seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie or eight skaters and one goalie.
• Teams have to protect any players with no-movement clauses in their contracts — for the Jets, that means Toby Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien.
• Teams have to expose at least two forwards and one defenceman who have played either 40 games in the previous season or 70 games combined in the previous two seasons.
• Any players with two years or less of pro hockey experience are exempt — that’s a break for the Jets; top prospects such as Nikolaj Ehlers, Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor and Brendan Lemieux will all automatically be protected.
So why is the expansion draft such a problem for the Jets? Well, the devil is in the details and any way you cut it, they’re going to lose a very good player.
Consider the scenarios:
Let’s suppose the Jets protect seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie (which most teams are expected to do).
Obviously, you’re going to protect Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Mark Scheifele. Drew Stafford and Mathieu Perreault are both unrestricted free agents at the end of next season, so let’s say you don’t extend them so you don’t have to protect them — although, man, that in itself would sting.
That leaves four more forwards you’re allowed to protect — I’d go with Adam Lowry, Joel Armia, Alexander Burmistrov and Andrew Copp.
Copp is an interesting case — he played one game in 2014-15 which puts him over the “two seasons or less” threshold that exempts a lot of the Jets’ other top prospects, the club confirmed this week.
That will leave the likes of Marko Dano, Chris Thorburn, and Anthony Peluso unprotected among forwards. Not bad, right? It’d be a bummer to lose Dano, who showed promise after coming over in the Andrew Ladd trade. And Thorburn is a heart-and-soul guy. But still, not bad.
For a goalie, Ondrej Pavelec is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season so, like Stafford and Perreault, let’s just say we’re not extending him so we don’t have to protect him. That leaves a choice between Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, who the Jets re-signed on Tuesday. That’s not much of a choice — protect Hellebuyck.
So what’s the problem? It’s the defencemen in this scenario. The Jets have no choice but to protect Enstrom and Byfuglien because of their no-movement clauses — and that means they’d be able to protect just one other D-man.
There’s been trade rumours for weeks concerning Jacob Trouba, who is a restricted free agent this summer. But let’s assume the Jets re-sign Trouba. That would mean in this scenario that the Jets would have to leave either Trouba or Tyler Myers unprotected. That is what is known in hockey circles as “a freaking nightmare.” Either of those guys would be snapped up in an instant.
So… the Jets go the other route and choose to protect just eight players and one goalie so that they can protect four defencemen and not have to lose either Myers or Trouba.
That solves the defenceman problem, sure, but you’re now protecting just four forwards — Wheeler, Little, Scheifele and, I guess, Lowry. Do that and you’re going to lose either Armia, Burmistrov or Copp, probably.
And again, that’s also assuming you don’t extend Stafford and Perreault, which is also problematic. Extend one of those guys before the expansion draft and now you’re leaving Lowry unprotected, too.
Now obviously, a lot of this is subject to change. The Jets have a whack of UFA and RFA contracts to be resolved over the next 12 months and there is also going to be all kinds of wheeling and dealing over the next year as general managers across the league jockey for position in advance of the expansion draft so that they aren’t exposing valuable assets.
Maybe the Jets trade Trouba. Sure, but then whoever they replace him with as a top-four D-man is also going to need protecting, assuming they want to protect Myers in addition to Byfuglien and Enstrom.
Unless, of course, Morrissey is ready to take a huge step onto a top-four pairing, which would solve a lot of problems for Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. But even then, who do the Jets get in exchange for Trouba? A top-six forward? Then what? Now do they have to protect him, too?
Gary Bettman is on the record as saying that he wants to give any new expansion teams every chance to succeed, presumably to avoid a repeat of previous expansions that saw new teams struggle out of the gate — and at the gate — and never get much better (hello — and thank you — Atlanta Thrashers.)
Bettman’s pledge and the generous expansion draft rules that go with it are, no doubt, why the NHL is getting such a huge expansion fee from Vegas. But all that money is also coming at a cost and unless Cheveldayoff becomes a magician over the next 12 months in addition to a hockey GM, the Jets are going to pay dearly.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
Updated on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 6:20 PM CDT: Replaces headline