VANCOUVER — The Winnipeg Jets are bringing what they believe to be five quality prospects home from Vancouver — along with plenty of questions about the more immediate needs of the team.
With the NHL draft now in the rear-view mirror, many of the answers will start emerging in the coming days.
The salary cap was set late Saturday at a lower-than-expected US$81.5 million for the 2019-20 season, so general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff knows exactly what he’s up against. No doubt, he was hoping for the original projection of US$83 million. As a result, some tough decisions must be made, and fast.
Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp, Neal Pionk, Nathan Beaulieu and Joe Morrow are all restricted free agents who need new deals. In the case of Laine and Connor, could another NHL club try to take advantage of Winnipeg’s financial woes and sign them to an offer sheet the Jets would either be forced to match or lose the player in exchange for draft pick compensation?
That could happen as early as July 1, so buckle up.
Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev, Ben Chiarot and Par Lindholm are the key unrestricted free agents who are now able to speak with other possible suitors about signing with them beginning next Monday as well. Myers, for example, met Sunday with the Vancouver Canucks. The clock is ticking, their time in Winnipeg likely coming to an end.
To get all the RFAs signed and have any hope of retaining a UFA, or two, some salary is going to have to be shed. Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov are two names being talked about as potential victims of the cash crunch. There was speculation that might happen at the draft this past weekend here in Vancouver, but Cheveldayoff stood pat, at least for now.
"Everyone’s got their own agendas, everyone’s got their own situations that they’re looking at. It’s not an easy time, so to speak, right now, to worry about anyone else but yourself. Everyone is just doing what they need to do within their own organizations," Cheveldayoff told the Free Press of several cost-cutting moves that went down at the draft, including Toronto’s Patrick Marleau, Nashville’s P.K. Subban and Tampa’s J.T. Miller all on the move for pennies on the dollar.
"Everyone has their own pressure points and jobs they need to do."
Cheveldayoff started on his a week ago when he moved Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers for Pionk and the 20th pick in the draft, which no doubt hurts the Jets on the ice but helps them off of it in terms of dollars and cents. But there’s likely going to have to be more of that kind of wheeling and dealing to come in order to make all the pieces fit.
Add it all up and it has the potential to be an extremely busy week. Not to say all of the above business is going to get taken care of, but there will at least be some finality on whether any of the UFAs can possibly be welcomed back under the cap.
"I’m a guy where the doors are always open until the doors are closed. We’ll see how things play out this week," Cheveldayoff said when asked if he could see any of them coming back.
"You can sit here and try and make your own market and do whatever you can or have the ability to do, but the market will set itself."
It says here the market, save for perhaps Lindholm and Chiarot, is going to push the Jets right out of the bidding.
Myers and Tanev are likely going to be heavily courted and offered big-money deals the Jets simply can’t afford to match.
As for the RFAs, while it’s unlikely all will be signed over the next seven days, the offer-sheet cloud will begin to loom and Cheveldayoff will at least need to have a strong idea of how much they’re all going to end up making as he assesses what, if anything, he needs to do to fill out his roster once free agency hits. Although the Jets don’t look to be big July 1 shoppers, there could be some significant holes to fill, albeit with somewhat limited resources.
In that regard, Cheveldayoff has already signed two European free agents earlier this month in Finnish forward Joona Luoto, 21, and Russian forward Andrei Chibisov, 26, no doubt hoping to find a diamond in the rough at relatively bargain-basement prices.
"Luoto is coming in a three year entry level deal. He’s someone our Finnish pro scout really had a lot of time for. He’s someone that competes real hard. We think that with some development you can find yourself a player that can eventually come into your lineup with the type of player that he’s going to be. Good size, real hard compete and someone who’s willing to come here and put in the time," Cheveldayoff said this weekend.
"Same with Chibisov...It’s a little less of a runaway with him, only a one year deal because of his age. They’ll come in and be added to our prospect pool. A guy like Chibisov’s case, a little bit older, maybe he gets a chance to catch Paul (Maurice’s) eyes."
Both will be present at Bell MTS Iceplex this week as the Jets hold their annual summer development camp. The five players selected at the draft this past weekend in Vancouver will also be there, along with players from other recent draft classes and some additional free agents.
Medicals will be held Monday, and on-ice sessions run Tuesday through Thursday and are open to the public.
"We tend to really try to talk about pro habits, things that over the course of time, little tricks of the trade so to speak, stuff that has really helped the development of younger players go from whatever league to the National Hockey League and help them become even better national leaguers. It’s really all about the pro habits, the on the ice, the off the ice, from the training standpoint, nutrition standpoint, acclimation standpoint. It really is a development camp, it’s not an evaluation camp," said Cheveldayoff.
So while Cheveldayoff will be keeping one eye on the future, he’ll have another locked in on the present. Will he end up liking what he sees? We shall soon find out.
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.