The Winnipeg Jets have made some minor trades and signings this offseason. It’s mid-July, and that’s probably the best we’ll see in terms of acquiring new talent. Now it’s time to assess the talent already on the roster. Or that time is long overdue.
Right now, the sole focus for the Jets organization is to get their restricted free agents re-signed. And that will eventually happen.
RFAs would be Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Paul Postma and Eric Tangradi. Mainly, the focus and concern should be on the “big 3”—Wheeler, Little, and Bogosian. However, all five have filed for salary arbitration with their hearings scheduled to begin early next week.
Salary arbitration can be tricky.
First of all, the fact that all of the Jets’ RFAs filed for arbitration should tell you the management wasn’t working hard enough to get deals done. Even though a deal is almost guaranteed to get done through arbitration, the arbitration decisions could burn the Jets in the long run.
The maximum amount of years a player can receive on a contract through an arbitration hearing is two. This is particularly bad for the Jets when someone like Wheeler files for arbitration. The Jets need to sign a player like Wheeler to a long-term contract, but now they may never get that chance.
An NHL player loses RFA status when they reach 27 years of age. Wheeler will turn 27 in August. If Wheeler only gets a one-year deal through arbitration, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next year. Arguably the Jets’ best forward will be a UFA.
If the Jets can’t easily get a deal done with Wheeler right now, how can they be confident they’ll get one when he reaches UFA status in a year or two. Oh, and did I mention that this is the second time Wheeler has filed for arbitration as a member of the Jets?
Wheeler should have been the focus of at least a five-year deal, maybe longer, but Kevin Cheveldayoff let this one slip away. Now it’s inevitable that Wheeler will become a UFA sooner rather than later if a deal doesn’t get done before his arbitration date. And obviously from a team perspective, you never want anyone to be out there on the open market, especially a player like Wheeler.
Unfortunately, the same could happen with Little as well, who is set to turn 26 later this year. Bogosian just turned 23, and he’ll get the opportunity to sign a long-term deal with the Jets in the future. Of course, if he doesn’t file for arbitration every year.
Hopefully the Jets management can walk away from the arbitration hearings with smiles. However, they won’t be smiling for too long if Wheeler is set to become a UFA in a year or two.
Lesson learned from all of this: don’t let all your RFAs go to arbitration.
UPDATE: According to Scott Brown on Twitter, the Jets have re-signed Eric Tangradi. I guess that's a start.