So lets be honest about this. Did ANYONE expect to wake up on February 25th and find the Jets in first place in their division? If you were one of those folks then congrats to the eternal optimist in you. I for one never expected a nosedive like the one Washington has performed but here we are. So now what does GM Kevin Cheveldayoff do Monday?
The Jets, as it turns out, have been constructed exactly the way you want, from the backend out. Some thanks needs to be sent to the old Atlanta regime and Rick Dudley for some of the incredible pieces that have been put in place. Andrej Pavelec has done everything asked of him and more. He is still young and controllable from a contract point of view. The defense boasts THREE building block D men. That is the kind of scenario that could deliver a championship in the future. I would bet that every team in the NHL has called the Jets at least once to ask about available D men. Hopefully any conversation about Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, and Zach Bogosian was very short. Add in Mark Stuart and you have four players that when healthy can win you a hockey game. Crazy
There have been hundreds of stories this season about the Jets and their lack of scoring and the numbers bear that out. They are very streaky and at the moment are streaking in the right direction. They do have one commodity that the entire NHL is looking for – power forwards. Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, and Evander Kane are a nightmare for opposing teams. They all have speed, strength, and puck smarts that drive teams crazy on the fore-check. All three are corner stone players.
The Jets cannot afford at this point to ignore asset management; at the same time they cannot turn their back on the opportunity to host a playoff series. That is the kind of experience that will spring board this program to the next level. This is the time of year that GM’s earn their money and Cheveldayoff and his team have to walk a tight rope. Here are the challenges he faces in the short term:
1.) Ensure they remain competitive for the stretch drive
2.) He has eight unrestricted free agents. Who stays and who goes?
3.) What pieces do they add and at what cost, if any?
I don’t see the Jets adding anyone at this point because they can’t trade any draft picks. The program is not ready for that scenario. At most they will trade a prospect that maybe they feel is expendable of is not progressing at the rate they want. There is not really much available on the market right now that the Jets need.
Pending Free Agents
The market for UFA players on July first is shaping up to be the worst in 15-20 years. There will be very few impact players available and with the expiring CBA makes it worse. If I were Cheveldayoff I would be making some contract extensions this weekend. As far as the UFA players are concerned, I would do the following:
Chris Mason – Keep him and try to sign him in the summer if the term is right. He has no value on the trade market and you need a backup. Also if you move him you upset the apple cart in St John’s, which is not too smart.
Johnny Oduya – Trade him yesterday! Seriously, he has been the worst regular player all year from game 1 on. Makes too much money and can easily be replaced in house. Can probably garner a 2nd round pick.
Randy Jones – Has no value on the trade market and can plug a hole when needed. Renegotiate in July after the frenzy has ended.
Mark Flood – The reason he is still in the NHL is simple, the Jets know they would lose him on waivers. I would try to sign him to an affordable extension right now. He may test the market though as this is the best time in his career to do so.
Jim Slater – This along with Tanner Glass is going to be tough. When you find a third line that you can play in any situation you win games. When the crowd chants your lines nickname you are special. Teams get into cap trouble when they overpay the bottom six forwards. I would be trying to sign him today. Nothing more than a 1.5 million dollar cap hit though
Tanner Glass – see above. The only difference is centers that can win face-offs have slightly more value. 1.25 million cap hit.
Tim Stapleton – He has been very useful, especially lately on the power play. He makes the least amount on the team and is probably the easiest to replace. You can afford to wait on him to sign later and I would keep him around for the playoff push.
Kyle Wellwood – This is the hardest decision. Wellwood has been a very valuable player for this team in a top 6 role all season. If you look at his recent history he has bounced around a fair bit so I believe he would be thrilled to sign a 3-year deal. The problem is that if you believe Mark Scheifele is going be ready next year to do want to commit to Wellwood? I would, and I would be talking contract now. Internal competition is the best way to improve your team.
Expect a few press releases from the Jets in the next couple of days, but don’t expect many trades. I think you will see Cheveldayoff hold a press conference saying that he didn’t want to mess with the chemistry in the room. They can’t let these players walk away for nothing though so something has to give. I believe what you see is primarily what you are going to have for the rest of the season.