Winnipeg Jets Offseason Part Two: Free Agency

This is a two-part series that will deal with the offseason changes and their implications on the Winnipeg Jets for next season and beyond. Part two deals with free agency.

Contrary to the 2015 NHL entry draft, the free agency class of 2015 was one of the weakest in recent memory. That doesn’t mean there were no good players available, it meant that those good players weren’t as readily available as they used to be. Most teams had their top players locked in to long-term contracts in order to avoid losing them for nothing.

The Winnipeg Jets did have 10 unrestricted free agents heading into July 1, but two garnered the most attention.

Michael Frolik signed a one-year bridge deal with the Jets last summer as a restricted free agent, with plans of locking him into a long-term deal with the club during the season. However, despite tense negotiations, no deal was struck and Frolik became available on the open market. The Calgary Flames swooped in and signed Frolik to a five-year deal worth $4.3 million AAV. 

This is a potentially devastating loss for the Jets. Frolik was the most versatile forward on the Jets roster. He could play on the top line with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little or move down into a checking role alongside Adam Lowry. 

Frolik could be used in all situations, especially on the penalty kill. Before Frolik joined the Jets, the team struggled to reach 80% in penalty kill success rate. With Frolik in the lineup, the Jets soared to 10th in the NHL with a 83.2% success rate in 2013-14. While the penalty kill did drop a little bit last season, it still was over 80% (81.8% to be exact) which Frolik helped in maintaining that success rate. 

Frolik had strong possession numbers 5-on-5 as well (55.1% corsi, 53.9 fenwick.) It didn’t matter who he played with, Frolik made his teammates better when he was on the ice. 

There are many rumours as to why Frolik and the Jets couldn’t come to an agreement. Whatever story you believe is up to you but the bottom line is the Jets will regret letting the Kladno, Czech Republic native walk away and get nothing in return.

Drew Stafford was the other big name UFA the Jets were looking to keep. The nine-year NHL veteran who came over from Buffalo in the Evander Kane deal did put up solid offensive numbers with the Jets, registering 19 points (9G, 10A) in 26 games. 

However his possession numbers weren’t so great. Stafford was only at a 41.1% corsi (49.8% when he was with the Jets) and a 42.2% fenwick (52.0% in his 26 games here which is solid.) What hurt Stafford was a terrible playoff. As the Jets were being swept by Anaheim, Stafford’s possession numbers took a major hit (37.3% corsi, 36.4% fenwick in the four-game sweep.) 

Despite all that, Stafford inked a two-year deal that will pay him $4.35 million AAV. The term isn’t a huge hit but Stafford is getting more money than Frolik, even though Frolik is the better all-around player. 

This isn’t to say Stafford isn’t a talented player. He’s a decent skater who possesses an excellent wrist shot and has a nose for the net when a goal-scoring opportunity arises. But he’s a liability defensively and an anchor to his linemates when it comes to puck possession. Unless Stafford improves his defensive game while maintaining his offensive production, this could lead to big problems on the ice next season.

After spending the last two seasons with AK Bars Kazan of the KHL, Alexander Burmistrov is returning to the Jets, after signing a two-year deal worth $1.55 million AAV. 

Burmistrov started with the organization in 2010, when he was drafted 8th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers. He played three seasons in the NHL before leaving for Russia. Some have claimed that Burmistrov did not see eye-to-eye with former Jets head coach Claude Noel but those stories have never been confirmed. 

Jets head coach Paul Maurice is excited to have Burmistrov back in the fold.

“We had a good young player that we drafted very high, we invested in that player. A draft pick and then two years time and money and then we didn’t see anything for it in the last couple of years. I think it was very important for him to come back to our team.”

Burmistrov can be a very effective player. In his last two seasons in the NHL, he had solid possession numbers, (53.1% corsi in 2011-12, 51.5% corsi in 2012-13) while being used in various roles with a variety of linemates. Yes, there are questions to Burmistrov’s commitment to the Jets but with Maurice on board, this could be a return that will excite Jet fans.

The Jets will welcome back Adam Pardy and Matt Halischuk. Both agreed to one-year deals although Halischuk did sign a two-way contract meaning he may see time with the Manitoba Moose this season. 

Tough guy Anthony Peluso signed a two-year deal even though the pugilist saw very little ice time down the stretch. 

The Jets also signed veteran Matt Fraser to a one-year, two-way contract. Fraser split his time last season between Boston and Edmonton. 

An unheralded signing was bringing back defenceman Ben Chiarot for two more years. Chiarot was very effective when was called up in December when the team suffered a rash of injuries on the blueline. 

There are still four players that played for the Jets that remain unsigned as of press time. Forwards Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty and Jim Slater are all still available on the open market. Stempniak and Tlusty may be brought back for the right price. Slater is most likely gone unless he accepts a two-way or a minor league contract. Defenceman Paul Postma is also available but as a restricted free agent. The chances of Postma returning remain uncertain.