Even though the playoffs are still going on, we are slowly getting more details about the upcoming off-season. The NHL had previously set preliminary dates for both the draft and free agency, but it appears those plans have changed. It was recently reported that the draft is coming up on October 6 and 7 while free agent frenzy is scheduled for October 9.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) September 8, 2020
With these big events less than a month away, it’s the perfect time to help out Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff by giving him a handy-dandy checklist of things to do this off-season.
Let’s start with the potential roster heading into next season.
At first glance, it appears that the roster is almost complete. However, the closer you look, the uglier it gets.
This is the absolute bare bones roster with only players currently signed into next season. As you can see, there aren’t even enough NHL calibre forwards to fill out the current roster. Cue the first item of Chevy’s list.
Sign the RFA’s
The first task for Cheveldayoff is to round out the forwards under contract by signing the three forward RFA’s: Roslovic, Appleton, and Harkins. None of these deals should present a challenge with all three players likely looking for short-term deals with minimal AAV. Roslovic will command the most money of the three, but he will likely get a deal done without too much trouble.
Once these players are signed, the Jets will have a serviceable group of forwards to roll out on opening night. It could definitely use some upgrades, but at least it gives them four full lines.
The last RFA is Sami Niku on the back end. That will allow Dahlstrom to come out of the lineup and give the Jets one extra defender according to this very rough estimate.
Once the RFA’s are signed it gives the Jets a full roster on the ice, even if that defense looks atrocious. However, this leads to our next point.
Sign Dylan Demelo
This is an absolute no-brainer. After coming in at the trade deadline, Demelo fit in nicely beside Morrissey on the top pairing. He’s a strong player on the ice while also being a great person off the ice. Demelo is exactly the type of person and player that Winnipeg needs more of. A high character player that also competes at a high level puts Demelo at the top of the list when it comes to free agency.
It’s unclear exactly what Demelo is looking for in a new contract, but the team should have plenty of cap space to get a deal done. A three or four year contract with a reasonable cap hit should be a major priority of Cheveldayoff.
Obviously every team wants to hit a homerun at the draft, but the Jets really need to stock up on assets. The prospect cupboards are a little thin these days and the Jets could really use a strong draft to obtain some higher rated assets. The lack of high end prospects is one of the main reasons that Laine and Ehlers have surfaced on trade bait boards. The Jets have no grade A prospects to offer in a trade which means they are left offering their roster players to try and fill holes. A strong draft by Cheveldayoff is paramount if the Jets are to right the ship and start competing in the next year or two. This may be easier said than done with the Jets having only four picks. Navigating the draft with fewer picks will be one of Cheveldayoff’s toughest tasks this off-season.
Fill out the roster with UFA’s
The Jets are losing a number of players to free agency this year, although most of these players are replaceable. This list includes Eakin, Shore, Bourque, Shaw, Letestu, Kulikov, Beaulieu, Bitetto, Sbisa, and Brossoit. I’m not sure the Jets need any of these players back for next season. Depending on Chevy’s free agency plan, he will likely bring back a defensemen or two and I’m leaning towards Beaulieu and Bitetto. None of the forwards are likely to return which means Chevy will need to look elsewhere for depth. It’s unlikely that Winnipeg will land a big name in free agency so Cheveldayoff will need to be smart about the veterans he snags during free agency. We will look at some of the more intriguing targets as the frenzy draws closer.
The Jets will need to find a suitable backup for Hellebuyck. The three internal options are re-signing Brossoit, promoting Comrie, or promoting Berdin. It doesn’t look like Comrie or Berdin are viable options at this point which means it’s either Brossoit or someone else in free agency.
One last thing to keep in mind for this off-season is utilizing cap space as an asset. As mentioned above, the Jets severely lack the assets to make a big trade, but one of their strongest assets could be their cap position this year. This cap space will largely depend on Bryan Little’s status and who Chevy is planning to sign as a free agent. The most likely scenario at this point is that Winnipeg will have a bit of space to manoeuvre. Cheveldayoff needs to use this to his advantage as many teams are spending very close to the cap and will gladly pay to get some relief. Just look at the Carolina Hurricanes who received another first round pick for this year’s draft because of a shrewd deal to take Marleau’s salary from Toronto.
To Toronto Maple #Leafs
2020 6th round pick
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) June 22, 2019
While a first round pick is rare, this is exactly the type of deal that Chevaldayoff needs to pursue this off-season. He’s mentioned possibilities of using cap space as an asset and hopefully he follows through with those words this year.
There you go Mr. Cheveldayoff, a quick list of the most important things to do this fall. Over the next few weeks, we will take some time and look at each item with more detail. For now, this at least gives a simple roadmap to follow with the most important items to think about between now and next season.