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This article was published 25/6/2019 (455 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Jacob Trouba has been shipped to the Big Apple. Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot appear poised to strike it rich on the open market. And Nathan Beaulieu and Joe Morrow are being cut loose to test the free-agent waters.
Add it all up and the Winnipeg Jets blue line appears to be a major work in progress, to say the least.
More question marks emerged Tuesday when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff declined to tender qualifying offers to both Beaulieu and Morrow, meaning the restricted free agents will now become unrestricted free agents as of July 1.
Beaulieu made $2.4 million last year while Morrow was on a $1-million deal. In order to qualify them, the Jets would have had to guarantee at least equal contracts for the coming season. And given the salary-cap constraints the club is facing, not to mention the role both might play, those amounts were, apparently, deemed too expensive.
And that raises the question: who, exactly, will be playing defence this season?
As of right now, the Jets have Dustin Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey, Dmitry Kulikov, Sami Niku and Tucker Poolman under contract. Neal Pionk, obtained in the Trouba deal last week, is a restricted free agent who was given a qualifying offer Tuesday and will need a new deal. Same with Nelson Nogier, who skated with the Manitoba Moose last year but did get in one game with the big club on a call-up.
If that's the top seven, it doesn't exactly inspire a ton of confidence for a team that is loaded with offensive talent and expected to compete for a Stanley Cup.
Byfuglien missed half the season with various injuries (concussion, ankle) and isn't getting any younger, Morrissey missed more than a quarter of the year with a shoulder injury, Kulikov has also battled numerous injuries and consistency issues and Poolman also suffered two significant injuries (concussion, lower-body) with the Moose last year.
Niku has all of 31 career NHL games under his belt, Nogier has 11 and Pionk is coming to a new club following his first full year in the league.
As a result, expect the Jets to be fairly busy in the coming days seeking defensive help. Perhaps they circle back to Beaulieu and/or Morrow and attempt to re-sign them at a lesser rate than what the qualifying offer would have been? It sounds like the door is still at least open.
"Good, quality people that were part of our organization and we’ll continue to talk," Cheveldayoff said Tuesday. It's worth noting the Jets didn't qualify Morrow last June, either, then re-signed him just before July 1.
When asked why they didn't qualify either, Cheveldayoff was vague.
"You look at different circumstances for each individual and there's parts of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) that sometimes work in your benefit and sometimes don't," he said.
Beaulieu proved to be a valuable trade deadline acquisition, going from being a healthy scratch with Buffalo to the top-pairing with Trouba in place of the injured Morrissey for the final weeks of the regular-season, putting up five assists in 18 games. Morrow never could find a regular role, skating in 41 games with a goal and six assists.
A more unlikely prospect is taking one last shot at Myers and/or Chiarot. It appears impossible the Jets could afford to match what other teams are likely to pay — some might say overpay — them. There are rumblings Myers could get as much as $8 million per season, while Chiarot's number has been pegged by some at about $4 million.
If the above options don't make sense, the Jets would likely have to go shopping next Monday for defensive help, although how much they'd have to spend is a big question mark with other restricted free agents in Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp all needing new deals. Not surprisingly, all three were qualified on Tuesday, in addition to Pionk, Nogier and Moose No. 1 goalie Eric Comrie.
"A lot of it will be if there's a right fit. We do feel there are some internal players that could challenge for jobs and again, you want to be mindful of what you're putting in front of them," Cheveldayoff said.
"Does it help your team? Does it really not help your team? Would it be better to have some internal candidates there? So those are the things we're talking through right now."
Beaulieu and Morrow weren't alone in not getting qualifying offers Tuesday. Forward Marko Dano — who began the year with the Jets, was put on waivers and taken by Colorado, then put back on waivers and re-claimed by the Jets and sent directly to the Moose — has also been let go, along with Moose defenceman Jimmy Oligny and Moose backup goalie Ken Appleby.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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