People always say that the best problem to have in hockey is having so many young guys that need to get paid, that it causes cap issues for their team, and it is no secret that this coming summer will undoubtedly be the toughest for Kevin Cheveldayoff as he will attempt to keep the core of a young, skilled and contending Winnipeg Jets team in tact.
With the likes of Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Jacob Trouba all needing new deals come July 1 of 2019, Jets fans are starting to think and question whether Cheveldayoff and company can keep this core together? Particularly Connor, Ehlers and Laine. Many fans are doubtful that there is room for those 3 on the team, under the salary cap, on top of the other expensive contracts already on the books such as Wheeler starting his new 5-year deal with an AAV of 8.25M$ next year, as well as Byfuglien and his 7.6M$ cap hit for 2 more years.
For starters, it is important to remember that Ehlers is in the first year of a 7-year, 42M$ pact this year, so he is already locked down long-term at what many consider to be a very reasonable amount, considering what Toronto just gave to William Nylander on a 6-year deal for similar production.
Where things get interesting is when you look at Laine and Connor’s production, and start to wonder what they could demand on a (hopefully) long-term deal.
Starting with Patrik Laine
In Laine’s first two full NHL seasons, he put up a 36 goal, 64 point campaign in 2016/17 and followed that up with a 44 goal, 70 point sophomore season in 2017/18. There are few comparable’s when looking at the rate Laine has scored goals early in his career, but for this article I has chosen three players that I think are the most comparable for Laine when he gets to the point of signing an extension. I chose Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues, David Pastrnak of the Bruins and Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers for the purpose of this article. I have compared each player’s production of their contract year (year leading up to Restricted Free Agency) as well as their production in their first season of their new deal. All three of these players signed long-term deals coming off of their ELC’s.
First off, let’s look at Tarasenko; He signed an eight year, 60M$ (7.5M$ AAV) contract in July of 2015 (age 22). He was coming off of a 37 goal, 73 point season in 77 games played and was well on his way to establishing himself as one of the games premiere goal scorers. He followed up his contract year with a 40 goal, 74 point season in 80 games in 2015/16.
Next, David Pastrnak signed a six year, 40M$ contract (6.667M$ AAV) in September of 2017. The year before his signing, Pastrnak posted 34 goals and 70 points in 75 games. He started to show people that he as well was one of the young premiere goal scorers in the league along with Tarasenko. In the following year, 2017/18, Pastrnak followed up his signing with a 35 goal, 80 point season in 82 games.
Finally, we are going to look at Leon Draisaitl, who broke out in the 2016/17 season netting 22 goals and 77 points in 82 games played, giving the Oilers no choice but to pay up for one of the young premium power forwards in the league that could flank McDavid. After signing a lucrative eight year, 68 million dollar contract (8.5M$ AAV), he would have a slightly less productive season, producing 25 goals and 70 points in 78 games.
Using the comparables to Laine
When you compare those three players and their season before signing as well as their season after signing, to the numbers that Laine has produced in his first 2 full NHL seasons, it is not hard to imagine Laine ending up around the 8M$ – 9M$ range on a long-term deal. When you look at Laine’s 40 goals after his first two seasons, its easy to see that he has already established himself as an elite sniper in the league.
Taking a look at Kyle Connor
For Kyle Connor, I believe this will be a little more difficult as I believe that the players that are most comparable to him have not yet signed extensions. I see the likes of Brock Boeser from the Canucks, Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning and even Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes as the closest comparisons for what Connor did in his first year and what he has continued doing this season. Connor poster a 31 goal, 57 point season last year in 76 games, and this year already has 13 goals and 28 points in 30 games, on pace to shatter last years totals. With all of those numbers in mind, I would not be surprised to see Connor end up somewhere between 6M$ – 7M$ on a long-term deal.
One contract likely affects the other
For the sake of this article, lets say Laine signs an eight year, 68M$ contract (8.5M$ AAV) and Connor signs a six year, 40.5M$ contract (6.75M$ AAV), plus the 6M$ that Nik Ehlers is earning, that puts the Jets at 21.25M$ for those 3 players. Lets assume that the salary cap goes up to an even 83M$ like Gary Bettman has said it is expected to, the Jets would have just under 74M$ in cap space (VIA CapFriendly) including Laine’s new 8.5M$ cap hit, Connor’s new 6.75M$ cap hit as well as Wheeler’s 8.25M$ cap hit. This would give the Jets just under 10M$ to re-sign Jacob Trouba and the rest of their free agents both restricted and unrestricted.
In the end, with the numbers I have given, it would be doable for the Jets to keep all three of Laine Connor and Ehlers, however the realism of the contracts I’ve given Laine and Connor could definitely be up for debate. This numbers also don’t include moving guys like Perreault of Kulikov who I think could become expendable depending on what the Jets cap situation actually looks like.
This summer will definitely be one of the most interesting for Jets fans, but one that will define the future of the young core of this team.
(Credit to CapFriendly as well as Spotrac for salary and cap information and to u/wreckedem204 on Reddit for the suggestion)