There is a reason why TV networks – especially in Canada – devote so much time to things like Trade Deadline and Free Agency Opening Day, because player movement is exciting. It’s the reason people do fantasy pools and play GM mode on video games. Fans love the excitement of new faces in new places and what that could mean for their teams going forward.
If you’re a Winnipeg Jets fan though, yesterday likely felt like a dud and it’s fine to feel that way, but also understand that it was likely for the best.
The Jets made two signings on the opening of the NHL’s free agency period and they were players that had already been in the system. They brought back Nathan Beaulieu for a one year, one million dollar contract and then later in the day came to terms with minor league defenseman Cameron Schilling to a one year, two-way deal of his own. Meanwhile, the club also saw the departures of Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev which regardless of what you personally think of their play on the ice, their departures along with the trading of Jacob Trouba leave the Jets with a couple of big holes in the middle of their defense and a decent sized one in their middle six forward group.
If the opening of NHL free agency is like Christmas Day for hockey fans, then Jets fans probably feel like they got the equivalent of a pencil kit.
While none of us really expected the Jets to be knee deep in signings, it was still a bit of a let down to see teams load up – especially the other Central Division teams – while the Jets were relatively quiet. A lot of that has to do with the fact that what Salary Cap room the Jets do have, needs to be left alone to take care of the pending restricted free agents – Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Andrew Copp at the top of that list.
One other thing to keep in mind is that July 1 is notorious for seeing NHL General Managers hand out ridiculous over-inflated contracts and the Jets are wise to avoid being in the middle of that if possible. If anything, you could make an argument that the Jets have been burned by Free Agency Day deals in the past.
Dmitry Kulikov was a July 1 signing which at the time felt like a bit of a key move by the Jets to shore up their defensive depth, but has turned out to be an anchor that the club could have bought out this past week, but seems content holding onto for the final year of the three year, 13 million dollar deal if for no other reason than to give him one more attempt to be a productive – and healthy – part of the roster.
It wasn’t even the worst contract the Jets handed out that day.
Steve Mason was signed to a two year deal worth 8.2 million. Again, in all fairness it was seen at the time as a very necessary move for a club that just came off a bad season of goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, but injuries to Mason along with the emergence of Hellebuyck made Mason’s contract an even heavier anchor that needed to be moved off the Jets payroll. Winnipeg did end up getting a team to take on his contract with the Montreal Canadiens agreeing to bring him to buy the final year of his contract out, but it also cost the jets a middle nine forward in Joel Armia to do so.
So the Jets signing minor, bite-sized but safe contracts to help organizational depth the following year as well as this year are likely the right way to go about things.
While it is boring and bordering on frustrating that the Jets aren’t more active in taking care of their roster, understand that July 1 is just one day out of an entire summer that Kevin Cheveldayoff has to work on his roster. As he alluded to in his free agency day presser, their is still plenty of talk to be had with free agents both within the team and in the league, and a possibility of a move via trade still lurks.
Just be thankful the Jets didn’t just hand out a five year, six million dollar per contract to a player who may be the best defenseman in Vancouver but by all rights should have been looking at a bottom pair position in Winnipeg.