The Pilot’s Logbook continues with Bryan Little who started the season by getting a big six year contract extension. He followed that up by finally playing a full 82 game season after battling injuries the last number of years. Unfortunately this durability didn’t help on the depth chart as Little got demoted at the trade deadline when Paul Stastny rolled into town.
#18 – CENTRE
6’0″ / 191 lbs / Age: 30
Current Contract Status: Signed through 23-24 ($5,291,666/yr)
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PLAYER’S SEASON IN REVIEW
There is remarkable consistency when looking at Little’s numbers year over year. Little has scored over 15 goals and 40 points in every season since 2010-11 (not including the lockout shortened season in 2012-2013). The end of year output is consistent but there is more to the story. In previous seasons Little has struggled to stay healthy as he has only played 82 games twice in his entire career. This is where looking at points per 60 minutes (P/60) can become extremely valuable because it provides even footing for each season regardless of the games played.
Dating back the last eight seasons, Little produced his second worst season in 2017-18 with 1.86 P/60. The only season worse than this one was the first season back in Winnipeg when the team consisted of players like Tanner Glass, Tim Stapleton, and Nik Antropov. When looking at the two categories that make up P/60 (G/60 and A/60), this past season ranked second last in each category as well, which shows that Little declined in both goal scoring as well as playmaking. Does this mean Little had his worst season in the past eight years? Certainly not, as there are other important factors to consider.
One of the reasons Little’s numbers took a dive this season is the quality of teammates. Little has previously been a top line centre playing alongside Wheeler and Ladd. These other two players helped propel Little when his true talent was probably closer to a second line player. This season in particular Little got moved around as the season progressed. Stastny was brought in at the trade deadline which meant Little had to move down and play with new teammates. Looking at the numbers, Little had 30 points before the All-Star break, but only managed 13 points after the all-star break. This demotion certainly had something to do with the decrease in points as the season progressed.
A player like Little can provide value even if he isn’t scoring points. The Jets have a really young team and having a veteran presence in the room can help during tough moments. Little is a leader and can help mentor the young players while still playing at a fairly high level. Even if Little is not the most skilled player, his commitment to the organization adds to his leadership credibility. This commitment put Little in the record books as the player with the most games played for the Thrashers/Jets franchise.
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) December 28, 2017
At the start of the playoffs Little was identified as one of the playoff X-Factor’s for the Jets. While there was potential for Little to make an impact, he never really thrived in the post-season. He did generate 26 shots which would normally lead to 2-3 goals, but instead only scored one. The important thing for Little in the playoffs was actually winning a game. Little was on the team when the Jets got swept against the Ducks in the last playoff outing. It was great to see Little, who has been through so many bad seasons, finally be able to win a playoff series and have success.
It was a handshake line that had to feel especially sweet for the four Thrashers who became Jets, except Bryan Little was nervous: "I didn't know what to do." He does now after a night 31 years in the making: https://t.co/7XPL1YKaeA #TSN pic.twitter.com/POsiSaLmC9
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) April 21, 2018
If Little’s play continues to decline, the Jets may find it tough to move him. Little’s contract includes a no-movement clause through 2019-20 which then becomes a modified no-trade clause till the end of the deal in 2024.
The only question left for Little is if he can still play at a high level. He’s 30 years old and has another six years left on his contract. Even though he brings strong leadership qualities to the team, the decline in his play is cause for concern. With the cap crunch beginning this off-season, Stastny might not get re-signed. This means Little would most likely gain his 2nd line role back for the time being. Little may not be able to hold this 2nd line position for long though, as both Roslovic and Lowry are continuing to develop and improve.
If Little does get demoted as the years progress, his cap hit will continue to hurt the Jets. Even if he becomes the fourth line centre five years down the road, his cap hit won’t change. This might be an issue in the future when the Jets are looking to sign a free agent or make a trade.
Little’s future is clearly with the Jets organization after signing a big extension last season. Whether or not Little continues to score 40 points and play on the second line is a different question altogether.