Needing to add several new pieces to their blueline this offseason, the Winnipeg Jets could have some interest in targeting one of the top defensemen on the open market when free agency opens on Oct. 9. So let the speculation begin.
After losing defensemen Tyler Myers (free agency), Dustin Byfuglien (injury), Jacob Trouba (trade), and Ben Chiarot (free agency) last offseason, the Jets’ blueline struggled to perform effectively this past season and relied heavily on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck far too much. While the 2020 Vezina award winner was able to bail out his teammates on a nightly basis, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff certainly doesn’t want to put his superstar goalie in that type of a position for a second-straight season.
With that in mind, Cheveldayoff and his staff must acquire quality blueliners over the next few months to help prevent that issue from occurring in 2021. Considering the Jets have approximately $15.57 million in cap space for next season, their front office could address its glaring need in many different ways, including via free agency or the trade market.
While Winnipeg could definitely trade Patrik Laine or Nikolaj Ehlers for an elite defenseman, which may happen anyway, there’s a chance they could keep both those forwards and target a top blueliner in free agency instead. Aiming for a three-time All-Star, it’d make a ton of sense to make a serious run at defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, as he’d be able to make an instant impact at Bell MTS Place in 2021 and beyond as well.
Earlier this offseason, it seemed like the St. Louis Blues would be able to sign Pietrangelo to a long-term extension, which would’ve prevented him from reaching the open market for the first time since 2013. Luckily for Winnipeg, contract negotiations recently broke off and the 30-year old is expected to become an unrestricted free agent next month.
Coming off his seven-year, $45.5 million deal, this will likely be his final opportunity to cash in and sign a lucrative contract before he exits the prime years of his career. Even though he’d likely prefer to stay in Missouri, as he’s spent 12 seasons there, the right-hander probably isn’t looking to take a discount and will likely be asking for a raise from his 2019 salary of $6.5 million.
Since Pietrangelo is considered one of the top defenseman available, if not the best available, he’s likely to have a long list of potential suitors interested in his services. With that said, the Jets could definitely come away victorious, as they’ll have enough cap space to match any offer submitted, that’s within reason of course.
As for what the 6-foot-3 defenseman will command this offseason, it seems like his price range could fall somewhere around defenseman Victor Hedman’s eight-year, $63 million contract, especially since he’s only scored six more points than him since the 2010-11 campaign. But given his age, it’d probably be wise for Winnipeg to avoid a contract that exceeds six or seven years or they could be stuck with an expensive blueliner whose production could decline significantly during the final few years of his deal.
Proving he’s still capable of performing at a high level, Pietrangelo enjoyed one of the best statistical performances of his career this past season. Adding to his stellar resume, the Ontario native played 70 games, producing career-highs in goals (16), goals per game (0.23), points per game (0.74), and shots on net (225). In addition, he also generated 52 points, 89 blocks, 47 hits, 43 takeaways, and averaged 24:11 minutes of ice time.
Even though the Blues were eliminated during the opening round of the 2020 NHL playoffs, the end result certainly can’t be blamed on the veteran blueliner, as he led all defensemen on his team in points (six), points per game (0.67), and average ice time (25:12). Additionally, he also created one goal, 33 shots on net, 15 blocks, nine hits, and a trio of takeaways.
If the Jets aren’t keen on spending half of their cap space on Pietrangelo, there’s a handful of defensemen who are expected to hit free agency who could improve their blueline in a massive way next season. Looking for inexpensive options, Cheveldayoff could target players like Travis Hamonic, Chris Tanev, Justin Schultz, or even Torey Krug.
Before free-agent frenzy opens next month, it’ll be crucial for the Jets to determine whether they want to go all-in and land a superstar defenseman or if they want to favor quantity over all-star talent. Safe to say these next few months will be interesting to watch.