The Winnipeg Jets have had one of the most entertaining offseasons in franchise history, and it hasn’t even started yet. Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff releases an article weekly outlining the top trade targets around the NHL, and Blake Wheeler debuted at the third spot on his list this week, which came as a shock to many fans and people around the NHL.
Wheeler is 35 years old with two years remaining on his contract worth $8.25 million in average annual value (AAV). Despite his contract, he still has plenty of value as an established leader who nearly scored at a point-per-game pace last season. The Jets will have to find creative ways to trade him to make the money work, but there is a market for him out there. Here are three teams that could come calling for his services.
The Florida Panthers just had a historic season and would love to continue it in 2022-23. Although they may need to move cap space out to bring Wheeler in, they recently hired former Jets head coach Paul Maurice. It is known that during his tenure with the team, he loved the way that Wheeler played and was the leader of his team during his time spent with the club. He would be more than happy to bring his old captain back to an already stacked forward core that just needs some leadership and guidance to take the next step.
The money is more manageable than it appears on paper, though. While the Panthers are only projected to have $3 million in cap space this offseason, forward Patric Hornqvist is in the last year of his contract and is slated to make $5.3 million this upcoming season. If Winnipeg was willing to retain salary on Wheeler, this trade’s finances could be very close to even. They would be looking for more in return than just Hornqvist, but this would give the Jets plenty of cap space going into the 2023-24 offseason.
While they won the President’s Trophy during the regular season, they failed to win a game in the second round against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They could certainly benefit from bringing in an experienced leader to help them take the next step, as they are still a very young team that will remain competitive for years to come. He can help guide them through that process.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings make sense for a couple of reasons. General manager (GM) Steve Yzerman has a history of taking on contracts that teams are looking to move in return for assets, most recently taking Nick Leddy in exchange for a second-round pick. They are projected to have $35 million in cap space this offseason, which gives them plenty of flexibility to bring on a high-priced veteran like Wheeler.
The Red Wings are one of the youngest teams in the NHL. He may not fit their future Cup window, but they could benefit from having a veteran presence before they become perennial playoff contenders. The money makes sense as well, as they have two outstanding rookies in Lucas Raymond and Calder Trophy-winner Moritz Seider who are due for contract extensions two years from now, right when Wheeler’s contract would come off the books. Acquiring him in exchange for an asset wouldn’t hurt their finances, and especially wouldn’t get in the way of signing their two young superstars.
Wheeler can help them immediately with something they struggled mightily in last year—the power play, as it finished with a 16.2 percent success rate last season. Despite his numbers declining at even-strength last season, he was still able to provide his passing and anticipation skills to the Jets’ power play. Whatever team acquires his services will play him on the man-advantage, and no team could benefit more from a boost there than the Red Wings.
What’s one more bad contract? Throughout their rebuild, the Arizona Coyotes have taken on a multitude of contracts in exchange for picks and prospects. Fans will recall the trade deadline deal that sent Bryan Little’s contract to the Coyotes in exchange for a prospect.
The only way this trade will happen is if the management group values Wheeler and his contract as a net negative. He still provides value on the ice, which is why I believe many teams will come calling before the Coyotes do. Having said that, if there is any team in the NHL that is in a spot to take on a bad contract in order to reach the cap floor, it’s them. They currently have $33 million in cap space, and will likely need to trade for a few contracts to reduce that number.
Acquiring Wheeler would not mess up their contention window either, as they are slated to have three first-round picks and four second-round picks in the upcoming draft, and their three most effective players are under contract until 2024-25. While they are rebuilding and developing these rookies, they most likely won’t be paying out big cash to anyone to win now. They would likely acquire him to gain even more assets and further improve their odds of creating a contender in 2025-26, not today.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff still has to decide whether or not the price is right to move his captain. He’s been the leader of the team since Aug. 31, 2016, and his departure would leave many fans who want to see him finish his career as a Jet disappointed. However, he may have no other option but to move him. If one of these three teams comes calling, he will have to make the tough decision and trade his once-franchise player.
Connor Hrabchak is 19 years old and is currently working towards completing his communications and media degree. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He’s been watching hockey ever since they moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, and that has inspired him to write about hockey and attempt to make it into a full-time career.