The biggest challenge for the Jets and more particularly general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is not the contracts that have to be signed and the space within the salary cap they will take up but the decisions on how to fit it all in.
First, what the Jets are facing is the by-product of good fortune, hard work and luck. It’s a deep roster with talented youth that all seem to be maturing and developing at the same or similar rate. That development allows for the team to reap the benefits in the standings and hopefully/eventually the playoffs. As has been stated many times before, in this space and around the blogs and media, is how does it all fit together? The Jets did not create this draft and develop model with staggered contracts of existing veterans and developing youth coming off of entry-level deals without a plan to manage it.
Second, no one should be so naive to think that Chevy does not have a spreadsheet or twelve sitting around his office and looking at how the salaries fall into place and who could be expendable, who should be expendable and who will fill those spots.
Third, it’s time, even for the most skeptical, to put some faith into the brain trust of the organization. While it’s more that planning that leads to success, the Jets have managed not to screw up any good fortune they have and there’s some credit due. Have there been mistakes? Certainly but nothing calamitous and that right now the Jets are only saddled with one contract that should be concerning and that is Bryan Little’s.
The issue here is does Chevy have the chutzpah to make the tough decisions with certain players and contracts? That’s the question that should be being asked and the answer or speculated answer discussed. At some point if you have drafted well, made shrewd trades and built a competitive team you will be dealing with this problem just as Chicago, LA, Vancouver, Pittsburgh and Detroit know how success is hard to maintain. Only two of those 5 made the playoffs this season and one made the second round and all are cup champions aside from Vancouver who won back-to-back President’s trophies.
With all that being said. What are the tough decisions that have to be made by Kevin Cheveldayoff?
Kyle Connor- long term or bridge deal?
The long term deal give salary certainty going forward but is it the right certainty? A bridge deal could buy time and that might be smart if you think his goal scoring is influenced by his line mantes.
Josh Morrissey- long term or bride?
Basically it’s the same issue as Connor- if you have the ability to buy time is there a reason not too? Yes, that’s if you believe the deal will only become more expensive.
Blake Wheeler- sign now or wait until next year?
He’s 32 in August, captain of the team and will be entering into perhaps his ast deal next summer. He can be extended after July first but is that where you want money going, to a player entering the dreaded age curve nexus point to start their last big deal?
Tyler Myers- trade or hold on?
Myer has one of those last great deals of a 5.5 cap hit but with a 3 million cash salary. He’s an ideal candidate for a team looking to add cap space in a budget friendly way who can also play a bit of hockey. The circumstances for a trade of Myers may never be greater and with Tucker Poolman having a solid season playing third pair minutes would the Jets be any worse off?
Given the cost of Myers and that Kulikov’s deal is likely unmovable, Poolman should be thought of as a likely heir to Myers who should be traded in the offseason, again though could Chevy make that deal given Myers’ history with the organization?
Bryan Little or Mathieu Perreault
It seems like an easy choice but it’s not that simple. One has a longer deal that kicks in this coming season and an LNMC to boot. The other is the better player but struggles with health and makes less and likely a more appealing trade option. Very hard to trade a guy you signed during the season even if the value appears manageable. It’s not that you shouldn’t trade him it’s the message it sends to future players that perhaps trusting the GM is not the smartest idea, but that’s if you believe trust is a virtue still.
Jacob Trouba- long-term or goodbye?
Yes, this is still a topic but not one that’s worth getting worked up over. The Jets know what they have in Trouba and Trouba probably knows too. What he asked for in 2016 after he signed his bridge deal he was given. Some think he’s a 6 million dollar man or more but given his comparable it’s not hard to think that he could be had for less than 6 million, perhaps much less.
What if there is a trade to be made? This is the moment that Chevy has to decide if he sells at the peak or feels there’s more to come like offense? Still waiting for that and if contracts really are still influenced so heavily by production then Trouba is not getting what anyone thought he might.
The Jets now have a player in Petan who feels he’s not really fitting with the organization but coming off an entry-level deal he’s got almost no bargaining power. What happens with him? The same could be said for Dano although he signed a deal as an RFA to stay and not play. These are two commodities that smart NHL GMs will look at and see they have been undervalued by Winnipeg and could be great acquisitions. Like a few of the above it’s another question of cutting ties or holding on to see what can be had if you make different decisions.
The question for Chevy is can he make the team better by making deals now that help keep the bad contracts at bay and keeping the talent pool of youth full. That’s the value play, keep the pipeline full of potential entry-level deals or just higher ones and receive over-performance from those cheaper salaries. Not an easy task.
You may have to sacrifice a Little, Myers, and more to clear the cap space to keep Wheeler and others. There might have to be another chance for youth to learn on the fly as many did in the 2016-17 season. Chevy might have to be cold and realize that he has to fix his own mistakes too. The point here is that this is all manageable but the tough decisions have to be made to manage the potential problems. The Jets did not arrive at this point without a plan and understanding of the situation then, now and into the future. If you are a concerned fan you wonder if Chevy has the stones to make the hard decisions so as to lose the correct players so he can afford the better ones in the future. That’s where the rubber meets the road and what fans will find out in the coming weeks and months.
My roster would look like this:
Right wing: B. Wheeler ($5,600,000) - P. Laine ($925,000) - B. Tanev ($1,600,000) - J. Armia ($1,400,000)
Centre: M. Scheifele ($6,125,000) - J. Roslovic ($894,166) - B. Little ($5,291,666) - A. Lowry ($2,800,000) - N. Petan ($1,200,000)
Left wing: K. Connor ($925,000) - M. Perreault ($4,125,000) - N. Ehlers ($6,000,000) - A. Copp ($1,000,000)
Right: J. Trouba ($5,800,000) - D. Byfuglien ($7,600,000) - T. Poolman ($2,200,000)
Left: J. Morrissey ($3,500,000) - S. Niku ($775,000) - D. Kulikov ($4,333,333) - B. Chiarot ($1,400,000) - J. Morrow ($1,600,000)
S. Mason ($4,100,000) - C. Hellebuyck ($6,100,000)
M. Stuart ($583,333)
Roster Size: 23
NHL Salary Cap: $75,000,000
Cap Hit: $75,877,498
Cap Space: -$877,498
Myers was traded to the Rangers for Tampa’s 1st round pick this year. ( I can dream right?)
As you can see its not compliant and that’s the point here, tough decisions have to be made not so much about contracts and value that are signed but what ones have to go. Those decisions won’t be easy but they have to be made and then the effort to rid the Jets of the undesirable contract(s) too. Again, not an easy task but one that has to be completed.