Who should stay and who should go?
NHL free agency is a trying to time for any club that can give an NHL General Manager enough stress to see a few more grey hairs appear year after year.
Hopefully, in the case of Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, his mane of brown hair still stays relatively the same, but he does have some rather large contracts to fill out before any Jets step onto the ice at the MTS Iceplex for training camp next September – and even if there is hockey next September.
But, as a relative optimist, let’s just continue as if the hockey world intends to keep on spinning through to the 2012-13 season without anything as much as a hiccup.
Let’s review the list of upcoming UFA’s (unrestricted free agents) and RFA’s (restricted free agents) that are on the Jets list this summer.
Available UFAs: Chris Mason (G), Peter Mannino (G), Mark Flood (D), Randy Jones (D), Derek Meech (D), Andrei Zubarev (D), Tanner Glass (F), Jason Jaffray (F), Kenndal McArdle (F), Jim Slater (F), Tim Stapleton (F), Kyle Wellwood (F)
First and foremost in this list has to be two of the three cogs in the very popular GST line – namely Tanner Glass and Jim Slater.
Both players made a huge name for themselves for their hard working attitude and both were rewarded for their hard play each by having career seasons.
Slater had career highs in points (21) and goals (13) while playing a career high 78 games centering the Jets fourth line (albeit used as a third line most nights).
He was also the Jets top faceoff man, finishing 20th in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage (55.0%), while also taking the majority of the Jets faceoffs while on the penalty kill (231) and being the only Jets centre to win more faceoffs than he lost.
Going forward, Slater’s faceoff prowess is something the Jets desperately need.
For Glass, he finished with career highs in points (16) and goals (5) while also playing a career high 78 games after he came over via free agency fresh off a Game 7 loss with the Vancouver Canucks.
Glass’ experience is invaluable and his lunch pail, hard work attitude did not go unnoticed as he far and away led the Jets in hits with 246 (48 more than Mark Stuart), finishing 10th in the league in that category.
For the 6’1, 210 lb forward form Regina, the rugged winger’s style complemented the GST line so well that they were rarely ever separated throughout the season.
Jets fans can little forget when he played through a variety of small and big bumps and bruises during the season. Glass became a fan favourite in Winnipeg very quickly – epitomizing what it is to be a Jet.
Scrolling down the list, certain support players raise interesting debates about the status of the team currently and whether all these players will return.
First off, Kyle Wellwood, who set a career high in points (47) and tied his career high in goals (18) while playing in 77 games and ending the season as a +3.
Wellwood was a late addition to the Jets roster, but as the season wore on, he became a valuable member of the Jets second line, frequently playing alongside 30 goal scorer Evander Kane.
Not exactly a savvy veteran yet, his patience with the puck was a blessing and a curse at times, but his 47 points were good enough to place him in the top five in Jets scoring.
His output from the last year cannot be ignored and the Jets will need to reward Wellwood for a good season.
Tim Stapleton is in a similar situation.
Another former Toronto Maple Leaf system product at one time, he set career highs in goals (11), assists (16), and points (27), while playing a career high 63 games.
To add further to his repertoire this season, Stapleton, at times, quarterbacked the second power play unit, despite his 5’9, 180 lb stature.
For many hockey fans unknown to Stapleton, there is the argument that he was never given a chance and that he would not fit into any other lineup in the NHL because of a) his size and b) his skill set.
For the Jets, however, his size and skill set were nothing to be worried about. Up front, the Jets are one of the bigger teams in the league and are able to adapt to his size, which is the least of anyone’s worries.
As for his skill set, Jets fans should be happy that Stapleton is a Jet, for he possesses a similar skill set to Wellwood – a sometimes deceiving playmaker, but one who will shoot more and has a very quick shot.
If the Jets can overlook his size and focus on his skill set, he should be a Jet again.
For Jason Jaffray, the road to the NHL got easier when the Jets returned and fans in Winnipeg were more than happy to see him skate on MTS Centre ice with an NHL jersey on rather than an AHL jersey on.
About to turn 31 on June 30, Jaffray enjoyed a great bounceback season after only playing six regular season games and 14 playoff games with the Moose last season due to injury
Jaffray, who began the season as captain of the newly minted St. John’s Ice Caps (his old team renamed), Jaffray was called up due to injuries and appeared in 13 games for the Jets, netting one assist and seven penalty minutes in the process.
In 47 regular season AHL games, Jaffray collected 17 goals and 21 assists but his season was cut short as he as sidelined with a neck injury and missed the Ice Caps run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
How he recovers from injury will likely tell if the Jets want to sign him or not.
On the other hand, Chris Mason is a no brainer to resign.
Mason, the elder statesman on the Jets at 36, was 8-7-1 with a 2.59 goals against average and a .898 save percentage in 25 games this season as the Jets backup to now the undisputed number on Ondrej Pavelec.
His experience as starter with two other franchises will help him to mentor Pavelec further.
As for Randy Jones and Mark Flood both were used sparingly this season, mostly whenever the Jets needed them with the absence of the top four defensemen.
Jones, who came to the Jets after spending his last three seasons with three different teams, played in 39 games, notching one goal and an assist with a +4 rating.
Relied more on for his defensive ability, Jones could be on his way out with the defensive depth the Jets have both on the big club and down in the AHL with youngsters Paul Postma and Zach Redmond on the rise.
The stock of Mark Flood’s season will determine which of the two they keep, if they are willing to keep both Jones and Flood.
Flood, another ex-Moose the Jets signed, played in a career high 33 NHL games, collecting three goals and four assists along with a -1 rating and was a pleasant surprise, to say the least, in the Jets defensive corps.
Not expected to be much more than the top defenseman with the AHL Ice Caps, the Jets opted to use him alot during the season when they needed to and he delivered more than expected.
During the season, the Jets chose to keep Flood up with the parent club despite already having seven defensemen up and having picked up Grant Clitsome via trade.
For the Jets, having Flood as an UFA is a puzzling question to answer. Will the Jets re-sign the 27 year old defensemen? Or have another team give him a full time opportunity?
Flood may be the most interesting UFA of the group.
Rounding out the list of UFAs are a group of four players who are fringe players, at best, but have had their time with the Jets, save one.
First off, Peter Mannino played at all three professional levels this season – NHL, AHL, and ECHL. The rise of rookie goalie Edward Pasquale as well as the arrival of ex-Avalanche/Canadiens goalie David Aebischer saw Mannino’s prominence as number one goalie drop significantly.
Despite this, Mannino was called up to the big club during the season and played a scoreless third period of hockey, making four saves.
Mannino was not getting enough playing time in the AHL that he had a brief 22 game stint with the Chicago Express of the ECHL (going 10-8-4, 3.15 goals against, .899 save percentage) before being loaned to the Portland Pirates of the AHL for 15 games (going 8-6-1, 3.44 goals against, .895 save percentage).
With the rise of Pasquale – who went 23-12-1, 2.41 goals against, .911 save percentage – and the stability of Aebischer – who went 15-12-2, 2.86 goals against, .895 save percentage – the writing may be on the wall for Mannino if the Jets decide to re-up Aebischer as a farm goalie again.
Second off, Kenndal McArdle – who was also loaned to the Portland Pirates near season’s end – had his time with the Jets, albeit short and sweet and not overly productive.
McArdle appeared in nine games for the Jets, registering no points, four penalty minutes, and a minus three rating.
In 35 games with the Ice Caps, McArdle registered only 12 points (seven goals, five assists) and was promptly loaned to Portland where he finished his season with six points in 19 games.
In retrospect, the deal last summer sending Angelo Esposito for McArdle was a bust. McArdle was thrown around from situation to situation and sat out much of his time in Winnipeg, but his production was not what the Jets perhaps had in mind.
Third off, Derek Meech is an interesting prospect.
Having not played a full season with injury limiting any time he could have had cementing himself in a Jets uniform, Meech played only two games in Winnipeg and six games in St. John’s before injuring his knee again.
Meech, however, did return for the Calder Cup Playoffs, as he was a large piece of the Ice Caps long run, collecting nine points (four goals, five assists) in 15 games.
The Jets will want to give Meech another fair chance to show why the Red Wings had him play 41 and 49 games respectively with them from 2008-2010.
Lastly, Andrei Zubarev played one game two years ago for the Thrashers (the last game of the season) after a semi-par season in the AHL (13 points in 51 games).
He jumped back to the KHL and should not expected to be part of the Jets plans moving forward.