Yesterday was the deadline for teams to qualify RFAs and the Winnipeg Jets made their move in a not so surprising way. Of course Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor were qualified along with Neal Pionk and Andrew Copp while more AHL calibre players such as Mark Dano were not and became group 6 UFAs or UFAs.
The surprising to some but perhaps should not be was that newly acquired LD Nathan Beaulieu from the Sabres was not qualified nor was Joe Morrow. This was the play last year with Morrow and the two sides negotiated a deal a bit more favorable to the Jets. It seems unlikely that Morrow will get a raise or if he will return to the Jets but Beaulieu presents a more curious situation, particularly what exactly is he as a player?
This is a hard one but to qualify him would mean a raise from 2.4 million and would that value him correctly against UFA forward Ben Chiarot, some one the Jets have expressed interest in retaining. With the Jets current expenditures agains the cap it's probable that they cannot keep both players under contract for next season. I would imagine that they see Beaulieu in the range of where Chiarot finished his current deal at 1.4 million/year or perhaps a bit higher.
Based on using data from evolving-hockey.com
Ben Chiarot is a worse player than Beaulieu when looking at on ice impact. Now that's not saying Beaulieu is head and heels above Chiarot but the decision about the two needs to be about value for dollars spent. In this case should the Jets be able to sign Beaulieu for under 2 million he makes a fine option for depth defenders in a 5-6 roll. If he can play the right side, his off side he might be an option for Kulikov's final year.
This leads right into a sequel to the future, or at least the short-term future and is it one where the Jets and Kulikov are still together come July 1st? What of Connor, Copp, Laine and Pionk's next deals?
The Jets have until midnight June 30th to buy out Kulikov should they choose to and the cost would be a cap hit of 1.4 million this coming season and next one. That's a gamble as the cap did not increase much this year and would taking the pain this season be better for next year?
That might depend on what happens with Laine and Connor soon. There are a lot of balls in the air here for the Jets and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff because after next season Josh Morrissey needs a deal too and having a clean balance sheet as it relates to cap hits might be better then.
There's enough speculation that Patrik Laine might want to take a page out of Connor Hellebuyck's book and bet on himself for the next year or two. Go to work on your deficiencies in the off season and come back with a renewed focus and watch the dollars come. Goals are always the premium salary driver and if Laine can get back to his 40 goal range and increase his even strength amount they he will get his money and it will be A LOT of money.
As for Connor and Copp pick your poison on contract deals but do not underestimate what Copp means to this team in his role and versatility. He's the ideal utility player and he needs to be paid fairly and well, four years would be nice much like how the Jets did Perreault on his second deal.
Kyle Connor is a different situation altogether as he scores but does he score away from Scheiflee and Wheeler? Is Connor a driver of play? Can he carry a line via scoring without either of the Jets top two players? Given the way the latter half of this season happened it would've been the ideal time to find out but Scheifele and were never split so this leaves a vacuum of information.
The Jets have yet to bridge a forward they have drafted with the pedigree of Connor and I suspect he signs a 7-8 year deal and Jets fans can pray that it's not far above Scheifele and Ehlers.
Lots about to happen and I hope you are all enjoying prospect camp if you can get out to the iceplex.