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Photo Credit: © Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

2018 and Onward for Contracts (Defence + Goalies)

As we saw yesterday, Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets management have their hands quite full with the plethora of talented forwards going towards free agency in the next two years. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any easier when it comes to the defence. Of the 6 starting (+1 typically in the press box) defenceman that the Jets have, all but two are heading towards some form of free agency, with one player largely assumed to not be returning to the league, let alone the team.

Add on the fact that the Jets have seemingly found their long sought #1 goaltender and are in a position to pay him now and for the long term, managing these kinds of assets around the cap to be competitive now and in the future becomes increasingly difficult. While not impossible, it is difficult to predict which dominoes will fall first, and in which order that Chevy and co. would like them to in order to get the best attempt at paying the right price.

Like yesterday’s post, we will be using Matt Cane’s 2018 Free Agent Predictions to help us guesstimate as best as possible what these players are worth and might get. which were released May 21st 2018. Matt has previously worked on predictions for both the 2017 and 2016 seasons, in which his model came close to many low-to-mid AAVs last Summer 2017. As well, my interjections based on previous signings and possible comparisons should help set a baseline to what the Jets might do for the defence and goaltending situations.

Defence

Jacob Trouba

Making recent headlines simply by letting his agent, Kurt Overhardt, know that Winnipeg is actually a decent place when they play him more and without the likes of Mark Stuart, Trouba (and as we’ll see later, Josh Morrissey), is a key part of the Jets future. With that being said, there is a lot of back and forth to be had to find out what exactly Trouba is worth, especially once you bring in comparable signings: here is a link to those signed for greater than or equal to 3 years and for more than $4.5m.

In looking at specific players, however: Parayko, probably the closest comparable (and some would argue better than Trouba) is signed for 5yrs at $5.5m at age 24. Jaccob Slavin went long term with Carolina for 7yrs at $5.3m at age 23. Because Winnipeg can’t help but compare themselves to Toronto, Morgan Rielly went for 6yrs at $5m at age 22 while they also brought over Zaitsev for 7yrs at $4.5m at age 25. So where does Jacob Trouba fall, or hope to fall? I agree with Cane’s prediction that once you get past 3 or 4 years, Trouba likely is not signing for anything less than close to $6m – and it’s hard to believe that he’ll accept another short-term contract other than one year, which would make things considerably more tougher when you consider the forward corps that will have no contracts that same Summer 2019. While Cane’s model strongly predicts something shorter such as a 1-year, it is interesting how it peaks again for 6 or 7 years – which is likely where both parties would like to end up. As mentioned earlier, it will be hard to get a long-term contract for less than $6m AAV, but when you look at the comparables and in terms of their statistical outputs (i.e. points), it could be difficult for Trouba and his agent to get those precious $6m for anything less than 8-years.

All-in-all, this will be one of the more interesting contract negotiations to watch, and one I don’t think will be resolved until close to the end of the Summer. By then, we’ll see if Trouba and Jets agree to disagree and go one more bridge contract at 1-year, or go long-term as desired by both for something long term. Optimistically, getting Trouba for 6-7 years at a $5.5m-$5.75m cap hit is a favourable view of where Trouba’s contract may land; though it is entirely likely it will go higher into $6m+ territory.

Tucker Poolman

In short sightings, Poolman comes as advertised: steady, reliable, and big, with some slight offensive upside. With only 24 games on the ice with the Jets and 17 with the Moose, spending the majority of his time in practices or the press box, Jets management are likely frustrated with the injuries of others not allowing them to give Poolman the opportunity to play against harder competition and instead having to work on his basics with the coaches.

Having one more season where he is waiver eligible, Poolman will likely get paid NHL money to work on his game in the AHL or continue to be in the press box and work with Charlie Huddy on his game (where he remains one other player’s injury away from playing for longer periods of time in the NHL). That being said, a lot of people (including myself) would argue that Poolman is ready to step into a 3rd-pairing role now and the Jets wouldn’t miss a beat, which is a terrific back-up plan depending on what happens to one of the three other right-handed defenceman in front of him.

Considering Poolman’s base contract was $925k with possible performance bonuses getting him to $1.775m, expect Poolman to get another 1- or 2-yr contract at the lower end of the $1m-$1.5m range as he likely will continue walking back-and-forth from the Jets and Moose dressing rooms.

Joe Morrow

Essentially a more mobile and younger Ben Chiarot, Joe Morrow was acquired as insurance for LHD but excelled while being paired with Dustin Byfuglien (much like Chiarot a couple of years prior) for the rest of the regular season and during the first round series against the Minnesota Wild. The difference being, if you like more shots for and against in dangerous areas, you’d want Morrow on the ice.

With Enstrom likely retiring from the NHL and Sami Niku on the rise in the AHL, Morrow would be good insurance to keep as a 7th D or 4th LHD depending on how things shake out next training camp. That being said, you’d have to hope him and other parties (Chiarot) would be favourable of this battle for a roster spot, for fear of moods getting sour and ability becoming misused (see: Paul Postma and Adam Pardy.

Matt Cane’s model expects Morrow to be deserving of a 2-year contract at around $1m, but if you can get him at a little bit less money (like his qualifying offer at $715k) to give your team more flexibility, Morrow could be decent injury insurance – unless he does the same thing as he did in Montreal last year and play subpar after a surprisingly solid postseason effort.

Josh Morrissey

In probably a surprise to many (but actually not really), Josh Morrissey has thoroughly impressed in his two full seasons in Winnipeg, mostly for his defensive ability but also flashes of his offensive skill. In fact, those who were watching Morrissey early on back with the Prince Albert Raiders and Kelowna Rockets in the WHL will remember him racking up many points on the power play, thusly advising that the Jets should lock up Morrissey long-term now before he does get those points and forces the Jets to have much more difficulty signing him amongst the rest of the team.

Unfortunately, Morrissey and his agent is likely thinking the same thing – when (and not a question of if, but when) Morrissey gets trusted to quarterback the power play, it should not be a doubt that with it will come the points, and therefore a bigger paycheque.

So (using Cane’s model), do you try and bridge Morrissey for 1 year at $2.5m? Or go longer term for 4 or 5 years at around $4m+? Or even longer term at 7 or 8 years (at which I’ll add some money to Cane’s model) to go just under $5m and hope Morrissey’s previous two seasons is just a sign of things to come? Here’s my personal hint to Jets management: yes. 😉

Toby Enstrom

The oft-debated Swede has finished his 5 years at $5.75m, and barring one last hurrah for a chance at the Stanley Cup in a 3rd-pairing role, all signs (created by media and “””dressing room insiders”””) are pointing at Toby Enstrom leaving from the Jets and retiring from the NHL. While many a club could use a swift, reliable defenceman whom always slows the game down to prevent shots in front of his own net and direct the flow of play to the other end of the ice and are likely to pay top dollar for it, many envision Enstrom to be leaning towards returning home, especially with being hit with significant injuries all of the past 6 of 7 seasons.

It would be ideal to have Enstrom return for one last season with the Jets at a sweetheart deal of $1.50m-$2.15m, but it is more than likely that the 33-year-old will take as much time as possible this Summer to decide his fate if not actually leave the NHL, leaving the Jets to let Enstrom go while they try to knock down other important problems. Of course, look for other teams with significant cap space of their own to try and sweeten the pot for Enstrom as a stopgap defender. While it would be difficult to see Toby in another jersey other than Atlanta’s/Winnipeg’s, one would hope that he gets his duly-earned appreciation – whether that’s on another team, or in retirement.

Summer 2019: Myers and Chiarot

Let’s get this out of the way first: you say “thank you for being good” while paired with the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, but unless you can do more than cover for the enigma that is Big Buff and lay out big hits, have fun in free agency. Chiarot is easily replaceable in this good ol’ hockey game, and while being better than his absolutely dreadful 2016-17 season, Chiarot is likely just blocking future Jets’ LHD (Sami Niku, Logan Stanley) if he remains any longer than the next season. Morrow – who is a RFA, is younger, and is more suited towards a more fluid and quicker game, can be the press box 7th defenceman.

Myers, on the other hand, is a much more different topic. He is seemingly the first or last domino to fall in trying to figure out what the Jets should do in the Summer 2018 offseason, and he’s the one with one more year on his contract. That being said, if Myers is not in the Jets plans any longer than the 2018-19 season, his value is at his highest this Summer around the draft with teams looking to try and find that final piece to their own puzzle – thus, the Jets need to act now. Luckily, already having two all-star defenceman and a reliable replacement in Poolman makes this option all the more appeasing to do.

From what it looks like, it appears that the Jets have been giving Myers the opportunity to boost his trade value as well. After a tumultuous season on and off the ice in 2016-17, the Jets handed Myers the keys to the second power play and hooked up him to a defensive stalwart in Dmitry Kulikov. Once Kulikov went out, Maurice saddled Morrissey with Myers to cover for his questionable play in his own end. In that sense, the Jets were successful: Myers was dynamic offensively and got 36 points in a full 82-games played season. Some but perhaps not all would remember how they scratched their head and wonder how all 6’8″ lay sprawling across the ice in front of Hellebuyck for 53 goals against at 5v5 and an additional 21 on the PK – but let’s not remind all the other teams looking at perhaps acquiring this tall and mean player, shall we? 😉

All in all, the Jets simply have too much of a good thing: talented right-handed defenceman. In a cap world with other younger players demanding higher contracts, you have to manage your assets well – and that means for a player like Myers, who likely won’t get paid any less than he is now as he likely heads towards free agency if he remains on the Jets squad, you need to recoup what you can get in order to remain a strong contender for years to come. While it will be unfortunate that the Jets won’t necessarily get a player like Myers in return, the team can rely on their professional and amateur scouting to replenish the talent well so that the Jets may be feared in the Central Division, the Western Conference, and the entire National Hockey League for years to come.

Myers is likely worth some combination of a first-round (protected) draft pick or a blue-chip prospect, and a middle draft pick and depth defenceman for the AHL or press box, with his next contract costing a minimum of $5m.

Goaltenders

Connor Hellebuyck

Pay him.

Eric C-

Kidding, there are things to be said here about Connor Hellebuyck. After bringing in Steve Mason to be the starter and getting off to a rocky start (and what would end up being one hell of a rollercoaster of a season), Hellebuyck took the reins and never looked back as he absolutely crushed the regular season, getting 44 wins in 64 starts (most by American goaltender), 6 shutouts, and nominated for the Vezina. It was about as best as you could do on a “prove it” contract when the management signed another goaltender because they thought you weren’t good enough.

So what does a goaltender whose defied all expectations to become the #1 goaltender of the future expect to make, and should make? Matt Cane’s model in the past has been very hit or miss with goaltenders in the past, but with improvements, it is expected that Hellebuyck is no less deserving of $6m at minimum for anything less than 3-years. Looking at the goalie market in previous years, the following is a list of those who have made more than $5m at 3 years or more:

 

So the question becomes, do you think one Vezina worthy season and one season of struggling (plus one 26 game appearance in which he started strong and got run into the ground) is worthy of a long-term, high-paying extension? Carey Price got that $6.5m at 6 years back in 2012 after being handed the net for 72 and 65 games (and 38 and 26 wins respectively) back in the 10-11 and 11-12 seasons. Only Rask, Crawford, Miller, Schneider, Bobrovsky, and Holtby got close to that mark – and most of them received higher accolades such as higher Vezina votes or the Stanley Cup before Price did at the time! And, once again – outside of the 26 games in 2015-16, Hellebuyck has shown one weak season and one incredibly strong season. And of course, in agreeing what many people would say: goalies are pretty voodoo.

Either way, Hellebuyck’s next contract discussions will certainly be interesting. Hellebuyck could easily command closer to that $7m mark when it comes to the fact of his Vezina nominations when looking at others, but then you’re looking at at 7 or 8 year term. The trend nowadays is signing goalies to these 4-6 years to not get handcuffed for too long in case things go south – but if Hellbuyck continues his strong play, then you want him as long as you can get him at age 25 to a bit over his 30s: a goaltender’s prime years.

In this author’s opinion, you sign Hellebuyck long-term, because in actuality, the only oddity in terms of season performances for Hellebuyck wasn’t his supremely strong season, but rather the weak season the year before. In the AHL, in International play, and in College, the “big and boring” goaltender has won and performed incredibly well at ever level. Sure, you can try to use 2016-17 as a reason why he might cost cheaper than $7m, but make no mistake: Connor Hellebuyck should, will be, and is the Jets’ goaltender of the future.

Optimistically, you get this kind of player for three options: 5 years at $6.25m, 6 years at $6.5m, or 7 years at $6.75m. In terms of managing the cap and trying to win now, the best of the three is the 6 year option – but these contract negotiations will undoubtedly be long and heated.

Eric Comrie

After many were ready to give up on Eric Comrie as Michael Hutchinson took over the net in the AHL and the young baby-faced goaltender went on to post a 2.58 GAA and 0.916% save percentage, Hutchinson remained up with the big club and Comrie seemingly willed the depleted Moose squad past the defending Calder Cup Champions, the Grand Rapid Griffins, in the first round of the AHL Playoffs. Unfortunately, that was all she wrote, as #1 went on to post a 3.18 GAA and 0.908% SV%. So, many are properly asking… just which Eric Comrie is the real deal? The nimble, athletic, and mechanically sound goaltender who can stop barrages of 40+ shots on net on a terrifying (in a bad way) Moose team, or a young, somehow still appearing to be inexperienced goaltender that is a step behind the play and relies on his athleticism too much and it becomes a flaw?

While it certainly likely wasn’t in anyone’s plans to have a 20-year-old start 46 games in his first AHL season, that is what happened and it’s up to people smarter than me to determine whether or not that has capped Comrie’s potential to be a goaltender of the future, whether that’s backing up the starter in the NHL, or becoming a reliable starter in the AHL. Nonetheless, he has one more season of waiver-eligibility with the Jets and Moose management, and expect him to sign for no more than a year to show one last time to Rick St. Croix and company that he can be relied upon in the Winnipeg-based hockey clubs.

Eric Comrie is likely going to get a 1-year, 2-way deal at the minimum of his Qualifying Offer in the NHL, and higher in the AHL.

Michael Hutchinson

At one point, Michael Hutchinson appeared to be the heir apparent, or at least a possible stopgap between Pavelec and the next star goaltender. Hutchinson, however, has arguably been treated unfairly by the hockey club, and is quoted in The Athletic as saying he was “frustrated” and “[not] given an opportunity […] to play three to five games in a row to get a chance to run with it and establish consistency. After my first year, I don’t think I’ve played more than two games in a row.” While there is some merit to his statements, one cannot argue that he hasn’t exactly given himself the opportunity to be trusted within the organization, based on his NHL play alone:

(HockeyViz.com)

Add that to the disparaging comments about Jets management, refusing to speak to media outside of when he was called to the NHL or AHL All-Star game (and then only speaking negative comments when he did), it does not really surprise this writer that even though Hutchinson was playing extremely well in the AHL, management opted to keep him in limbo and not give him the opportunity to play in the AHL playoffs. There is likely an incredible amount of bad blood between the goalie and Hockey Operations, and likely has seen the last of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

That being said, Hutchinson remains relatively young and has shown flashes of brilliance in both the NHL and AHL, and likely is no where near the end of his professional career. Perhaps he didn’t get the same amount of opportunities like Pavelec did during his tenure here, but in all honesty, in a 82-game season, no one goalie should be given that amount of opportunities, period, and just because one goaltender did, doesn’t mean you should offer the same to another.

Hutchinson is deserving and will probably get a 1-year, 1-way contract with a team that is unstable in net, and will likely be given the opportunity to steal it from the incumbent. Not that I think he will, but if he doesn’t do it this season, then he will simply remain a very good AHL goaltender.

In Summer 2019: Steve Mason

Steve Mason, long mistreated in Philadelphia, was brought in by Chevy and company to be the number one goaltender for the Winnipeg Jets this season to give Connor Hellebuyck more time to develop as a backup. Unfortunately for Mason, Lady Luck decided to f@#$ him over incredulously and Hellebuyck proved that one off-season was enough to become more than just a NHL-calibre goaltender. While $4m is a lot for someone that will likely be relegated to a back-up role, Mason will remain a very good insurance policy in the scenario that Hellebuyck gets injured or doesn’t perform as well next season. Unless another team offers the Winnipeg Jets a decent back-up in order to give Mason the opportunity to be the #1 in net again or the Jets make a trade and have the opportunity to sign another cheap backup themselves, Mason will likely remain with the Winnipeg Jets for one more season and will hopefully have the opportunity (barring even more injuries) to get another contract with another team.

In Summary

In an ideal world, the first move Cheveldayoff will make this offseason is signing Connor Hellebuyck to whatever contract he gets. Unfortunately, this will probably be one of the harder negotiations this Summer, and will likely be stretched out for an extended period of time, forcing Chevy and the rest of the GMs to look at the next domino to fall – their defence. It is likely too much to keep all of their defencemen together as it is, so do you try to recoup assets now by trading Tyler Myers before he goes to UFA? Is Trouba realistically going to be signing long-term, and will the value match the dollars? Does Morrissey bank on future success and try to go for shorter contracts now, or are both parties comfortable going long-term for slightly cheaper now? Who is the true successor for Tobias Enstrom on the left-side? What does the press-box look like for the short-term future?

While forwards can largely be replaced with different assets in terms of your bottom three or six, or press box placeholders, the defence and goaltending situations are much different. The Jets of the past have arguably been held back of their potential forever because of the calibre of defence and goaltending – now that it finally works, what does it take to keep it together or build upon it: especially when you need to manage the cap? Tough decisions will have to be made – hopefully they are the right ones when we look back on it in retrospect.

Tomorrow, there is a lengthy list of non-roster players to get through.


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    • WPGChief

      Hutchinson has burned bridges and likely won’t be returning. Enstrom is definitely not returning to the Jets and potentially not even the NHL, as mentioned by a couple people and reported on by Art earlier in the week. Mason wants to redeem himself over his extremely unfortunate season last year and has several years of proof that he can put up elite numbers – I’d rather see him do that for 25-30 starts with the Jets so Hellebuyck doesn’t get ridden out as that is what seems to be his folly for the past few years.