There are 13 players on the Winnipeg Jets who have expiring contracts. Some skaters will walk and it sucks to lose some of your favorite players, but that’s just the business of the game. With $20.5 million in cap space, according to PuckPedia.com, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to get creative to make sure he has a solid team on the ice next season. So here are my top three picks who need to be re-signed to keep the Jets rolling and maybe become that dynasty Connor Hellebuyck talked about last week.
The first contract I want to see get done is defenceman Neal Pionk. He was picked up in the trade for Jacob Trouba back in June 2019. Pionk has become a great player for the Jets and Trouba has sort of fell off a cliff with the New York Rangers. Pionk is a restricted free agent this off-season and needs a second bridge contract. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pionk on the back end, but with the flat cap, it just makes sense to sign him for a couple of bucks less and a shorter term. He’s loved on Jets Twitter, he plays with heart and also has a great hockey IQ.
Pionk plays a very similar game to Boston Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy. McAvoy is two years younger than Pionk, has a slight defensive edge and plays a little over two more minutes on average (McAvoy averaged 24 minutes per game in 2020-21 and Pionk played 21:58). McAvoy is currently earning $4.9 million a year and signed a three-year deal last year. Seeing that McAvoy is earning a little higher than he should be, I think Pionk is good to earn around $4 million a year over the next four seasons. It will eat about one-third of the Jets’ cap space, but he’s such an asset to this team it wouldn’t make any sense to let this situation drag out.
The next contract I want to see get done is Paul Stastny. He was acquired last off-season to help the Las Vegas Golden Knights with their cap crunch. The trade was Carl Dahlstrom and a conditional fourth-rounder for Stastny. Say what you want about Cheveldayoff, but that man can fleece teams in trades. Honestly, someone tell me the last time Cheveldayoff lost a trade – it just doesn’t happen. This season, the 35-year-old played 56 games and had 13 goals and 16 assists in the regular season. In the playoffs, he played six games had one goal and one assist. Stastny primarily played on the second line and gave the Jets some confidence at the center position. He won 54.7 percent of his faceoffs, which is his fifth-best year in the faceoff dot.
The 35-year-old is coming off of a three-year, $6.5 million contract. A very comparable player to Stastny is Jason Spezza. He’s two years older than Stastny and played up and down the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup and was able to score 10 goals and 30 points. Spezza played for a league-minimum $700,000. I know Spezza took that contract to try and win the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs. Looking at all the facts and comparables, I could see Stastny earning a two-year contract that pays him $1.2 million per season. Stastny is a good leader in the room and on the ice. He played his 1,000 career game in a Jets uniform and it would warm my heart to watch him eventually win a championship here too.
Andrew Copp is the third player who needs to be signed before next season. Copp is coming off of a career season, where he scored 15 goals and 39 points in 55 games. The 26-year-old won 53 percent of his faceoff attempts and averaged 18:15 minutes of ice time per game. I could see Copp playing significant minutes on the second line next season and also start playing at an elevated level if Pierre-Luc Dubois can’t give a winning faceoff percentage.
If Paul Maurice and Cheveldayoff have told Copp he might be playing on the second line in the future, I could see him taking a contract that takes him past the restricted part of his career, which is in two years. So a four or five-year contract would make plenty of sense. I think a four-year deal for 4.1 million would be a contract for both sides.
What do you think of these potential contracts? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram or Twitter – @angushout.