A pair of Winnipeg Jets have elected for salary arbitration as a means of trying to get their next contracts settled.
Forward Andrew Copp and newly acquired defenceman Neal Pionk both filed prior to Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline. The restricted free agents are among 40 NHL players who went that route.
Arbitration hearings will be held in Toronto between July 20 and Aug. 4, with specific dates for each player to be set later this month. There’s nothing to preclude contract talks continuing in the meantime, and the vast majority of cases do get settled without going before a third party who hears arguments from both sides and then makes a ruling that is binding.
One notable exception would be that of former Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba, who was awarded a one-year, US$5.5-million contract last summer in arbitration. Trouba, now with the New York Rangers and again an RFA, also filed for arbitration Friday.
Copp, 24, had a career-high 11 goals and 14 assists last season while showing his versatility by moving up and down the lineup, both as a winger and occasionally at centre. He just finished up a two-year contract that paid him US$1 million per season, and looks to be in line for a significant raise.
Pionk, 23, completed his first full NHL season with the New York Rangers with six goals and 20 assists in 73 regular-season games. The left-shot blue-liner came to Winnipeg, along with the 20th-overall pick in the 2019 draft, in exchange for Trouba. He just finished a two-year contract that paid him US$1.775 million per season.
Copp and Pionk are among six RFAs general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has to sign. Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, who were not eligible to file for arbitration, are the other two that will have major implications on the team going forward.
The remaining two are Manitoba Moose goalie Eric Comrie (who had the option to file but did not) and defenceman Nelson Nogier (who was not eligible to file).
The Jets have about US$20 million of salary-cap space remaining, with the majority expected to go to Laine, Connor, Copp and Pionk once the dust settles on their contracts.
There’s also the ever-present risk of another team making an offer sheet to Laine or Connor, as has been rumoured, which would put the Jets in a position of either having to match or walk away from the player with compensation.
Friday’s development opens up another buyout window for the Jets. By having at least one player file for arbitration, the Jets will have a 48-hour period to buy out a player, if they choose, beginning on the third day after the final arbitration case is either settled or heard.
There had been rumblings the Jets might go that route on defenceman Dmitry Kulikov, who is in the final year of a contract paying him US$4.333 million for the coming season.
Such a move might help give them some breathing room under the cap. However, the first deadline of June 30 came and went.
Whether they use this second chance remains to be seen.
Given the Jets have lost Trouba via trade, and Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot in free agency, they may just opt to keep Kulikov around because of his experience — barring another move this summer to bring in an experienced, top-six defender.
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.
Updated on Friday, July 5, 2019 at 10:52 PM CDT: Adds photo