With one game left in their NHL season, Winnipeg Jets chairman Mark Chipman held a long and highly informative press conference today discussing the team’s inaugural season.
He opened discussions on the team’s short-term plans with some encouraging words:
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, because I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.
Every fanbase in the league wants solid, responsible ownership that hires the best people and then leaves them to run the team. Chipman sent precisely that signal with the above statement.
We’re a young team and we stayed young by design. We agreed that we needed to let our young players play, and that’s how they’re going to get better. I don’t think you’ll see a dramatic shift in the way we go about things next year. We’re going to continue to be a young team and let players develop.
A huge part of the team’s core is in their mid-20’s or younger. Top defensemen Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien are both 27 years old, with lots of hockey left in them. Captain Andrew Ladd is 26. Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec, Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane and Alexander Burmistrov are all in their early 20’s. That’s the core group of the team, and it seems like management is content to let them develop.
The first step is we’ve got to secure our young guys, those that are expiring either on their entry-level or those that still have restricted status. That’ll be the priority. Depending on how that settles out, as I said if there’s an opportunity to make our team better through free agency we certainly will consider that this summer.
The two top priorities this summer would appear to be Evander Kane and Ondrej Pavelec, both of whom are entering restricted free agency this summer – Kane for the first time. Eric Fehr is also a pending restricted free agent while a number of slightly older players (Jim Slater, Tanner Glass, Kyle Wellwood, etc.) are unrestricted free agents.
There are teams that tried to do that [improve through free agency] last summer and are on the outside looking in this year. That free agency market turned out to be very different. Like at the opening bell last year, because of the dynamics of a team having just to get to the floor and another team who wanted to improve themselves, you throw two teams into the mix and the market turned upside down in five minutes. So you go in with a plan and in a very short period of time the rug’s pulled out from underneath you.
It isn’t hard to guess which teams Chipman is talking about. The Florida Panthers acquired roughly $30 million in salary via trade and free agency last summer, while the Buffalo Sabres have officially been eliminated from the playoffs despite massive contracts handed out to Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff.
The Jets picked up Tanner Glass and Derek Meech. It’s probably not a stretch to say they would have liked to be more active. It is interesting to note how one or two teams can drastically alter the landscape – the Sabres by offering ludicrous dollars to good but not great players, the Panthers by offering cash and term to role guys.
Presumably, the Jets’ activity on the free agent market is going to be dictated to a large extent by whether or not similar events occur this summer.