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This article was published 9/12/2015 (1410 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Just imagine the decisions Kevin Cheveldayoff has to make in any one day...
Red tie vs. blue? Steak or chicken? Paper vs. plastic?
And when it comes to his regular gig — generally managing the Winnipeg Jets — the decisions only get juicier, more impactful and, clearly, more scrutinized.
All of which brings us to a couple of decisions that have been looming for months now, dating well back in the calendar year if not beyond: What to do with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien? Both are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next summer and both could — heavy emphasis on could right now — play dramatic roles in this team qualifying for the playoffs next spring or bring a cache of talent if they are traded.
Can he find a way to keep both on the payroll, with an eye to his young talent base also coming up for new deals next summer as restricted free agents in Jacob Trouba, Mark Scheifele along with Adam Lowry and Michael Hutchinson?
And if he has to move one and not the other to make it all fit under the salary cap, who does he keep? Ladd, the captain and a man who has played such a vital role in the team’s move from Atlanta to Winnipeg and in morphing into a playoff team last year? Or Byfuglien, arguably the franchise’s most-popular player and a unique force in the National Hockey League?
What follows is an attempt to make the case for keeping or trading one or the other, presenting some basic facts that have been bandied about at office cubicles and watering holes — and inside the Jets management tower — since well before the puck dropped on the 2015-16 season...
1. He wears the 'C' for a reason
No player in the Jets organization has played a more important role in the franchise’s transition from Georgia to Manitoba than Ladd. He was the player a new ownership group/management team leaned on most as they went from running an AHL team to an NHL operation. And he’s a player everyone in the room — from the fresh-faced rookie to the grizzled vets — respects for his daily approach to the game.
2. He's a consistent point producer
Ladd threw up career numbers in 2014-15 with 62 points in 81 games. He’s produced at a .73 points-per-game clip since being traded from Chicago and in six years with the franchise, has missed only five regular-season games — including fighting through a stretch earlier this season in which his offseason surgery was clearly still affecting his game.
3. What dealing him might represent
Look, players in this league — including captains — get traded. But in dealing Ladd it sends a mixed-signal message to those who remain. Does the franchise want to win now or will it be one to consistently move veterans in an effort to push their draft-and-develop blueprint? What would moving him say to those who have signed extensions before him and want to win now, such as linemates Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler? And what would it say to the rest of the league, especially with Winnipeg hardly being atop many wish lists as desirable locales?
1.The law of diminishing returns
Hockey is a young man’s game. That’s not to say 30-somethings can’t be productive, but consider this: Of the NHL’s current Top 10 leading scorers (heading into Wednesday night) only two — Daniel Sedin, who is 35, and Mike Cammallerri, who is 33 — are north of 30. (Interestingly, the Top 10 leading left-winger scorers includes four players 30 or older: Sedin, Cammallerri, Alex Steen and Alex Ovechkin).
All of this isn’t to say the Jets still couldn’t get significant production from Ladd in the years ahead. But if the rumours about him seeking a six-year deal worth more than $6 million are close to accurate, it’s not what the Jets might get out of Ladd in the next two-three seasons that would be questioned, but what his game might look like five or six years from now.
2. The cap squeeze
It’s easy for all of us armchair GMs to throw around someone else’s money, but Cheveldayoff has to think beyond this season in trying to make this whole puzzle work. And the young guns becoming restricted free agents next summer — Scheifele, Trouba, Lowry and Hutchinson — would all command raises, some of them significant. The Jets certainly have room to play with under the cap as the team with the second-lowest payroll in the NHL, but it’s not so much the dollars that might handcuff a franchise but the term. And if the Jets lock-up both Ladd and Byfuglien, it leaves that much less wiggle room for a depth chart that isn’t just fluid year to year, but month to month in the NHL.
3. The return could be significant
First, let’s deal with this: If Ladd was to leave there are other candidates in that room who could be given the ‘C’, including Wheeler (although he’d likely be initially one of the loudest protesters at a Ladd trade). But let’s look at last year’s trade deadline and what one UFA forward brought his former team in return. The Arizona Coyotes shipped Antoine Vermette — who is hardly the same calibre player as Ladd — to Chicago for defenceman Klas Dahlbeck (now on the Coyotes second pairing) and a 2015 first-round pick (used to select Nick Merkley). Any playoff-bound team would be thrilled to add a player like Ladd, one who could fit into a Top 6 role, but also won two Stanley Cups in a support role. He kills penalties, is a consistent scorer and has a been-there/done-that component to his resume.
Remember, too, that the Jets have been here before. Last year they opted to keep Michael Frolik — also an UFA at the time — because he was an important cog in their push to the playoffs. And when he left on July 1 to Calgary, the club got nothing in return.
1. His uniqueness
He’s big enough to play on an offensive line and quick enough to be a power forward in the NBA. Yes, combine those two attributes and then stuff a 6-5, 265-pounds-plus man into a hockey uniform and what the Jets get is a force of nature on the ice. Forget for a moment that he is one of the most-popular Jets players — and that does count for something — and concentrate solely on how unique his skill set is to the NHL. Byfuglien is versatile enough to play both wing and on the blueline, is the key to their power-play and is a minutes-eating Top 4 defenceman.
He has opponents forever looking over their shoulders, is consistently in the 15-to-20-goal and 50-point range and has the ability to completely take over a game.
2. Just Buff being Buff
Ladd brings leadership to the Jets dressing room but Byfuglien provides a different element that is also necessary. He’s the kind of guy most likely photo-bomb an interview, to loosen up a nervous teammate with a wise crack or, on the flip side — ahem — dump a teammate’s track suit in the shower if he’s not towing the party line. There’s a lot Byfuglien does behind the scenes that most of us don’t get to see/hear/read about on a daily basis but is critical in that cohesion-chemistry intangible.
3. It stops the chatter
As much as Ladd and Byfuglien have done the ‘pro’ thing by not talking about the contract discussions, deferring the questions to their agents or avoiding them entirely, it has to get into everyone’s head in the dressing room. These are two popular and important players and the distraction — there isn’t a day that goes by without some rumour involving Ladd or Byfuglien popping up — can swallow up a team. Signing one or the other not only settles down some of that chatter, it shows a commitment to winning. The latest on Byfuglien, as of Wednesday, was there has been some communication between the two parties but nothing serious as of yet.
1. His style of game has a short shelf life
Byfuglien’s game isn’t built on guile and skill like a Scott Niedermayer or a Nik Lidstrom, two defencemen that played until they were 36 and 42, respectively. It’s based on his power, his ability to brute force an opponent. Sure, his vision and his puck-handling ability are often underrated, but his powerful shot and his crushing hits are his trademark. Byfuglien has had fitness issues in the past — not under Paul Maurice, it’s worth noting — and those questions would remain should the Jets lock him up to a big-money, big-term deal.
2. A stacked right side and D dollars
The Jets are loaded at right D, with Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba and while finding minutes for the three of them hasn’t been an issue — the three of them rank 1, 2, and 3 in terms of ice time — that’s a whole pile of talent on one side.
But consider this, the Jets currently have 41.6 per cent of their cap allotted to their defensive corps, second only to the Montreal Canadiens (42.3). Signing Byfuglien to a new deal and finding the dough to lock up Trouba means that number would only grow significantly.
Let’s play a little game here: If the Jets were able to move Byfuglien — even as a UFA the return might be greater than what Ladd would fetch — would that, in turn, allow them to make a deal to land Travis Hamonic? Since the Hamonic story went public last month — the St. Malo product has requested a trade from the New York Islanders to be closer to his home for personal reasons — there has been all kinds of speculation of what it would take to get him in a Jets sweater. The Isles are said to have asked for Trouba in return for Hamonic, but that is a deal that Cheveldayoff seems unlikely to complete given the young Jet defenceman’s ceiling. But if Byfuglien goes — even as part of a package or a three-way deal — it leaves a huge hole on the Jets depth chart.
And Hamonic, a local kid with a cap-friendly contract who is five years younger, would be a superb replacement.
The Jets aren’t the only team in the NHL with high-profile players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents still unsigned. L.A.’s Anze Kopitar doesn’t have a deal with the Kings, the future of Steven Stamkos with the Tampa Bay Lightning seems iffy right now while Eric Staal’s days with the Carolina Hurricanes seem almost certain to be done.
The NHL’s Board of Governors met this week and the early projection for next season’s salary cap is around $74.5 million, up from $71.4 million. The Jets, at $62.03 million, have the NHL’s second-lowest cap hit (to Arizona’s $61.18).
Knowing that restricted free agents Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry and Michael Hutchinson would all get raises in new deals, it would be a tight squeeze to get everyone — Byfuglien and Ladd included — to put their signatures on new deals. There’s also the not-so little matter of committing to a collection of players currently out of the playoff picture.
But if Cheveldayoff wanted to make it work, here’s what it might cost (with 2016-17 salaries in place and projections for the UFAs and RFAs based on similar players):