With the free-agent frenzy period scheduled to begin next month, the Winnipeg Jets will likely have their hands full attempting to rebuild their blueline for the second consecutive offseason and they could find it difficult to re-sign one of their most important unrestricted free agents.
With time starting to run out, there’s a very good chance defenseman Dylan DeMelo will indeed hit the open market for the first time in his career and there’s expected to be plenty of suitors bidding for his services. While general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff are expected to make a run at bringing him back, there’s no guarantee they’ll come away victorious.
Acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline in exchange for a third-round pick in this year’s NHL Draft, Cheveldayoff originally downplayed the acquisition back in February, but also admitted the team was “going to be open” to the idea of an extension when the time comes. Well, it’s now nearly seven months later and the 27-year old is still without a new contract.
Considering the seamless transition DeMelo made during his limited performance this past season, it seems like a no-brainer to bring him back for an extended period with the Jets. While the former Senator couldn’t crack the scoresheet, he was still able to provide a strong edge to the team’s blueline before the league’s shutdown.
Positioned on Winnipeg’s top defensive pairing with Josh Morrissey, the right-hander averaged 21:14 minutes per game, producing 14 blocks, 11 hits, 10 shots on net, along with one takeaway. Carrying his impressive defensive results into the postseason, the former sixth-round selection averaged 21:08 minutes per game, recording nine hits, six shots on net, five blocks, and one takeaway through four playoff contests.
At just $900K, DeMelo proved to be a steal at that price, serving as a top-two defenseman with the Jets. Even though he expressed considerable interest in staying beyond this past season, there’s a very high chance another team could steal him away. Considered one of the more desirable defensemen in this year’s market, the 6-foot-1 blueliner is expected to garner plenty of interest, specifically from teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche, and the Montreal Canadiens.
Holding the 13th-most cap space ($15.57 million) next season, according to Sportrac.com, the Jets certainly have the ability to compete against those suitors and to bring the Ontario native back on a multi-year contract. But like most offseasons, there’s usually one team out there that’s willing to overspend for a certain player. If that happens with DeMelo, Winnipeg could be forced to draw out from the competition and focus their resources on another player.
Considering the Jets will need to acquire at least two blueliners this offseason, they just can’t afford to exceed their spending limit on DeMelo. If he receives an offer north of $5 million per season, that would likely put Cheveldayoff in a tough position and it could lead to an outcome the fanbase might not adore.
With just Neal Pionk, Tucker Poolman, Carl Dahlstrom, and Morrissey under contract for next season, there are currently several holes along Winnipeg’s blueline that must be filled over the next few months. If DeMelo proves to be too expensive, the Jets might have to move on quickly to avoid losing out on some of the other high-profiled defensemen on the free-agent market.
With less than a month to go until free agency begins, it’ll be interesting to watch how the market develops and to see how the Jets approach one of their most meaningful offseasons in recent years.