The Jets have a major decision at hand that could affect the course of the upcoming 2018-19 season, as well as management’s long-term plans for the team.
Captain Blake Wheeler is 31 and coming off a 91 point season. 2018-19 is the final year of his contract (need contract numbers) and he will be looking for a raise. However, the Jets most likely cannot afford to give Wheeler the raise he is looking for, if they want to stay competitive with their young core. From the financial side of things, the Jets would have to sacrifice some of their good young players to keep Wheeler on the team.
The Cap Situation
Some notable players that are due for a contract extension: Laine, Morrissey and Trouba will be looking for long-term deals and those players are worth locking up over Wheeler, unfortunately.
Currently, Wheeler’s cap hit is $5,600,000 for the 2018-19 season and will be hoping for more than that. He was in top 10 for scoring this past season and the average contract was $6,806,666. This average also includes Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov who both signed contract extensions that will see them paid $12,500,000 and $9,500,000.
The average age of of the top 10 scorers was around 27, so this will play a factor in the kind of contract Wheeler will receive. That being said, a contract around $7,000,000 will most likely be what Wheeler gets and it could be north of that.
(Contract numbers taken from CapFriendly)
The Play Situation
Wheeler has passed his prime as a player and will only continue to decline. In fact, some of his underlying numbers have already suggested that he has done so. (Need advanced numbers)
Wheeler’s decline will continue to be hidden by playing with Mark Scheifele. Wheeler’s production over 60 minutes in 5v5 situations is 2.08, while Scheifele boasted a points/60 of 2.22. With Wheeler on the ice, the Jets had 50.04% Corsi percentage and Scheifele had 51.14% Corsi percentage.
(Advanced stats taken from Corsica)
While the shot share isn’t what’s noticeable, it’s the points over 60 minutes of play. The Jets are typically better with Scheifele on the ice over Wheeler. Even though they played on the same line together for the majority of the season.
The with or without you diagram above shows that it wasn’t just Wheeler driving the first line, it was Scheifele as well. This suggests that Wheeler isn’t as important to this line as suggested.
The above shot diagrams from HockeyViz suggest that the Jets are better in their defensive end in 5v5 situations without Wheeler. Which is surprising, because he has been heralded as the ultimate two-way player.
At the age of 31, Wheeler will start to slow down and it is up to the Jets to sell high on him.
The Trade Situation
The benefit of Wheeler is he would be worth a lot, even as a rental. 91 point players don’t grow on trees and any team looking to load for a playoff run could use a player like Wheeler.
The key for Jets’ management would be to balance current competitiveness with an outlook for the future. A few teams come to mind with some enticing players.
The Blackhawks are in a weird state where they have an older core locked up for considerably too long. Would the Jets be interested in a player like Brandon Saad and pieces for Wheeler? Maybe. Saad does have a fairly expensive contract for a few more years, $6,000,000 until 2021, that the Blackhawks may try to move on from. Over 82 games played in the 2017-18 season, Saad scored 35 points. Now, he is bound to play better this upcoming season, he scored 50+ points the previous 3 seasons.
There were rumours surrounding the Canucks trying to trade for Saad in an effort to leverage the Canucks’ cap space. Saad is 25 and locked in until 2021 at $6,000,000. That is a contract that could work long-term for the Jets.
Wheeler could be the injection of life for the Blackhawks’ this season to make one last playoff run for the Stanley Cup and then be off the books.
The next team would have Wheeler stay in Canada and that team would be the Edmonton Oilers.
It is no secret that the Oilers made a mistake in trading away Jordan Eberle. They have been on the look out for a winger to ride shotgun with Connor McDavid ever since the Eberle-Strome trade. The Jets will have some work to do to replace the loss of Paul Stastny and the declining production of Bryan Little. Who better to ask for in a Wheeler trade to Edmonton than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?
Nugent-Hopkins played out of position for a portion of the 2017-18 season on McDavid’s wing. Nugent-Hopkins had been in trade rumours for most of 2017-18. On top of this, the Oilers are close enough to the cap to be in cap trouble, if they wish to be competitive beyond 2018-19. A Nugent-Hopkins and Wheeler swap would give the Oilers the winger they’ve been looking for to play with McDavid and cap space beyond 2018-19. As well, the Jets would get a very good centre and more flexibility up front.
Despite the Sabres’ recent trade with the Hurricanes for Jeff Skinner, they should still not be satisfied with their roster.
The Jets already have a history of trading with the Sabres and could look at potentially another big deal with the team. The Sabres have not been good and are looking to turn the corner and make a playoff run. A player like Wheeler could provide the veteran presence and skill to help guide the Sabres into the playoffs. Ideally, a trade with the Sabres would include Sam Reinhart in the deal. Reinhart has been playing a on the wing wing ever since making the Sabres, but he was drafted as a centre. Reinhart could be a good flexible option for the Jets at centre or wing.
A deal like this could be interesting because there would need to be pieces going both directions.
Trading Wheeler is not an easy task. He is a very good player and the Captain of the Jets. Losing him would require the Jets to make up for his production by committee. However, if there’s any team that is up for the task, it is the Winnipeg Jets. Trading Wheeler would allow the Jets to recoup some assets and not give ups star for nothing. If the Jets do move in the direction of trading Wheeler, the goal for management will be to get equal value for Wheeler in return. With or without Wheeler, the future is bright for the Jets players like Scheifele, Laine, Ehlers, Trouba, Morrissey, Connor and Hellebuyck taking the reins.