Chevy will have to play Cap’n Crunch

Contracts expiring after next year could put Jets boss in a squeeze

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CHICAGO — One of the dilemmas facing an NHL GM when all of his young players come of age, is whether he can afford to keep them all. Beginning this summer, Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will be entering this territory.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/01/2015 (2941 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CHICAGO — One of the dilemmas facing an NHL GM when all of his young players come of age, is whether he can afford to keep them all. Beginning this summer, Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will be entering this territory.

Michael Frolik, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien are all headed towards unrestricted free agent status and will all be in position to sign extensions this summer. In Frolik’s case, that window is already open and he is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next July 1. Ladd and Byfuglien will potentially be UFAs at the end of the 2015-16 season.

Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry and Michael Hutchinson all have contracts expiring at the end of the 2015-16 season and they will also be eligible for extensions this summer.

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files Andrew Ladd (left) and Dustin Byfuglien both hit free agency in 2016.

This group of players will be restricted free agents at the end of their current deals and as such have less leverage.

Trouba, however, could be a target for an offer sheet from an opposing franchise.

So, Cheveldayoff will want to be prudent but also protective in his strategy for this group. Vultures will be watching to see how Winnipeg flexes its financial muscles.

If Cheveldayoff wants to have all of these players in his lineup when the 2017-18 season begins, he’ll to have to drive smart bargains. Or determine he can’t afford all of these better players and shed cap much like the Chicago Blackhawks did when they said goodbye to Byfuglien, Ladd and Frolik in their own version of cap crunch.

The Jets already have $38 million on the cap split over nine contracts for the 2016-17 season. Winnipeg has 23 players totalling $64 million in cap space signed to it’s NHL roster today.

For argument’s sake, let’s peg the cap for the 2016-17 season at $75 million and use it as Cheveldayoff’s budget.

It should be noted, Cheveldayoff currently operates under a budget but it’s near impossible to speculate those conditions at this point. Under a scenario where Cheveldayoff was given the green light to spend to the cap, he would have $37 million in cap space to sign 14 more players.

Frolik signed a one-year deal worth $3.3 million last summer. He’s going to get a raise. Call it $4 million for starters.

Byfuglien, 29, will make $6 million next year and Ladd, 29, will earn $4.5 million. They’ll both want raises and significant term to stay in Winnipeg.

Byfuglien is having a major impact on the ice for the Jets this season after returning to the blue-line. He was named an all-star and if his second half duplicates his first, he will get Norris Trophy votes.

What will his value be? If you look at comparable, all-star defencemen, a conservative estimate is $7.5 million.

Ladd is Winnipeg’s captain and among the team’s most consistent goal scorers. He’s developed into a 25-goal man with the potential to hit 30 or more in a banner season. On the open market, Ladd could ring the bell and sign with a contender. GMs all over the league covet this player. He’s won two Cups and understands what is required to succeed deep in the post-season.

Evander Kane is Winnipeg’s highest-paid forward at $6 million and one has to believe the bargaining for Ladd begins there.

These numbers could all be moot if any or all of these players elects to test the market. They could all walk in free agency or force Cheveldayoff to trade them.

So before Cheveldayoff gets around to his RFAs, he’ll likely have to commit north of $17 million to his three pending UFAs leaving him with $19.5 million to sign 11 more players.

Hutchinson, Lowry, Trouba and Scheifele will all be RFAs at the end of the 2015-16 season.

They’ll all be line for raises and it’s hard to guess what the market will be for these individuals. Trouba could be a top pairing defenceman by that point and at worst Scheifele will be a No. 2 centre.

The four won’t eat up all of the remaining money but they’ll take a major chunk of it. Cheveldayoff could find himself with less than $10 million remaining in cap space to fill seven more roster spots.

Cheveldayoff does have a raft of talented but young and inexpensive prospects close to coming on stream. They’ll help ease the burden.

Can Cheveldayoff get it done? He’s proven to be adept at getting good value for his money.

Signing Frolik, Ladd and Byfuglien will be the biggest challenge and he can’t afford to overpay and be out of cash when it’s time to retain his draft picks and develop graduates.

Cheveldayoff is certainly never shy of plans. He’ll have a variety of scenarios depending on how things unfold. Now is his time to execute.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

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