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This article was published 21/7/2019 (215 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Jets have checked another big item off the summer to-do list — and crept ever closer to the salary cap ceiling.
Defenceman Neal Pionk signed a two-year deal Sunday night that will pay him an average of $3 million per season. Pionk was a restricted free agent who had filed for arbitration. His case was set to be heard on Wednesday in Toronto.
The 23-year-old, who was born in Nebraska but grew up in Minnesota, made $1.775 million last year. He was obtained from the New York Rangers last month, along with the 20th-overall draft pick, in exchange for Jacob Trouba. Trouba just signed a seven-year deal with his new team last week that will pay him $8 million per season.
Pionk went undrafted but was signed by the Rangers out of college. He just completed his first full season in the NHL, scoring six goals and adding 20 assists in 73 regular-season games. He is expected to be a big part of the Jets blue-line this coming year, especially with the departures of Trouba, along with Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot in free agency
His deal comes just hours after the Jets had an arbitration hearing with forward Andrew Copp. Copp was seeing a one-year deal worth $2.9 million, while the Jets countered with a two-year offer worth $1.5 million per season.
A binding decision is expected later this week.
Once Copp's contract is settled, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will know exactly what he has left to deal with two other RFAs in Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor and remain under the $81.5 million salary cap ceiling.
With Pionk's contract on the books, the Jets appear to have about $64.6 million tied up in 20 players for the opening night, 23-man roster. That would give Cheveldayoff a maximum of about $16.9 million in available space for Copp, Laine and Connor at this time. The Jets could also go with just 22 players, which might give them about $17.6 million in room.
In other words, things are going to be extremely tight, especially with Laine and Connor both expected to sign for big numbers. Perhaps a shorter-term bridge deal for one, or both players, will be the way these ultimately go. Doing so would keep the number at a lower term, at least for now, while also giving the players an opportunity for a potentially bigger cash-in down the road.
After all, the Jets are expected to have plenty of money open up in time for the 2021-22 season, with Seattle joining the NHL and the cap expected to receive a big bump, plus more than $16 million in the existing contracts of Dustin Byfuglien, Dmitry Kulikov and Mathieu Perreault all off the books by then, assuming they aren't re-signed.
It's also possible Cheveldayoff will try to move some additional money out this summer. By having two players file for arbitration, the Jets now have a 48-hour period to buy out a player, if they choose, beginning on the third day after the final arbitration case is heard.
There had been rumblings the Jets might go that route on Kulikov, who is in the final year of a contract paying him $4.333 million for the coming season. However, the first deadline of June 30 came and went. Will they now take advantage of the second window which will open on Wednesday?
Or perhaps a trade could be in the works. Perreault, who has two years remaining on a deal that pays him $4.125 million per season, has been the subject of several rumours this summer and might be a candidate to be moved to open up some valuable cap space.
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.