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Next Year is More Important for Jets RFAs

August 1, 2012, 8:24 AM ET [4 Comments]
Peter Tessier
Winnipeg Jets Blogger •Winnipeg Jets Writer • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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What does one year from now hold for the Winnipeg Jets? It seems a silly question to ask as we approach less than 45 days before pre-season games but as much as this off season seemed to be a critical juncture for the newest NHL team, next year may be even more critical.

While Jets’ fans wait with some baited breath over the contract status of key RFA Evander Kane will there be even more nerves next off season? With Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian all slated to have their time in the RFA spotlight is there more to worry about next year after the Stanley Cup is awarded?

In Winnipeg there might be and one has to consider how important these current CBA talks are for the owners of the Winnipeg Jets. Without getting into a huge CBA discussion (believe me I’ll go there eventually) there is reason, at the very least, to consider how the Jets are a leverage piece and why the CBA could determine so much of the roster’s fate come next summer.

First the leverage, what exactly does that mean. The Jets are not a high revenue team nor are they a low revenue team they are what the poorest teams wish to attain and what the richest teams want as well: an organization that does not cost them much to support but is not a big a threat to impede player movement to the richest teams. They are the perfect ‘Goldilocks’ for the NHL- just right.

The League needs more teams that are ‘just right’ not skewed to huge ownership dollars and revenue for some and little for the others. We all know why this case exists and who is responsible but how to fix it is going to determine some of the fate for the next round of Jets’ RFAs.

It’s why the impending new CBA is so important as to how next summer shakes down with regards to three key RFA players. The Jets have shown the will and desire to lock up key players with their signing of Pavelec and former ‘soon-to-be’ unrestricted free agent Tobias Enstrom as well as spending money on key support and depth players such as Jokinen and Ponikarovsky but now the stakes get a bit higher…

By most fans accounts and that of the more observant and intelligent media Bogosian is a foundation piece for the Jets and has almost no chance of moving unless something goes awry and that would be a big ‘something’. Almost the same can be said for Wheeler and Little in terms of their importance and in this writer’s opinion Blake Wheeler may be the most valuable of the three. So what is their value and how does the next CBA affect their contracts and the Winnipeg Jets?

It’s not an easy thing to predict. Once Kane is signed the Jets have reached the cap floor and that by simple observation keep a salary structure in place with no player surpassing the 6 million mark. Even if the 29 million over 6 years figure for Kane (as reported by Gary Lawless) is the basic framework the internal structure, not cap, remains the same. This is an important aspect to remember and one that has psychological affect on teams. Players can say the cliché line ‘it’s all business and we understand what has to be done’ in reference to colleague’s negotiations but they also understand value either by reality or perception.

Having an internal salary structure allows the team to provide an atmosphere where no one player can seem more important or worth more based on salary. The media will always discuss salary and value in some symbiotic relation and fans certainly will express their thoughts and feelings too. The difference with a salary structure is no player can allow himself to think the team values him more than any other based on pay.

In some way’s it’s like wearing a school uniform- the clothes you were will not dictate your worth or value and it appears the Winnipeg Jets are adhering to a structure that reinforces the team mentality and approach to winning. With three players all due for raises next year does the potential for upsetting the apple cart exist?

It does not under the current CBA but should extended time as an RFA become reality in the next CBA or any salary rollback or standardized ‘banding’ based on performance happen the Winnipeg Jets have some tough decisions to make. Fortunately there will be 8 million in available space as both Hainsey and Antropov’s contracts expire and one has to wonder if either return- perhaps Hainsey more so than Antropov.

It would be foolish to assume all three players make a jump such as Enstrom, by two million per year no less, in their next contract for average annual value, just that more than likely they are getting significant raises. Will the Jets have the financial resources to sign them? Most definitely but is it worth taking a chance to extend any of the three now? It’s a big gamble as some player agents have advised their clients to cash in fast while others may be okay to let their clients earn their money in a more transparent and competitive future marketplace.

Bogosian, Wheeler and Little all have upside yet to be realized but can there be a value attached to any of it, almost a year before any dollars change hands? A savvy GM may have already started feeling out the situation and a confident one may have a plan in place but this time it’s the risk taker who will earn the biggest reward. Do you risk putting your eggs in the future CBA basket betting on how you think the outcome will unfold?

That question can be revisited in a year’s time but if I put my Delorean up to 88 mph and visit the future I bet the Winnipeg Jets are hoping the next CBA keeps them sitting ‘just right’ and perhaps a little more able to compete with the big boys.
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