Winnipeg Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has inked many players to team-friendly contracts throughout the years, including much of the current core.
While Cheveldayoff has not tendered many disastrous contracts in his tenure — certainly nothing to the level of 37-million-to-Dave-Clarkson or 15-years-to-RIck-DiPietro — he’s not been perfect. He has some less-than-ideal contracts on the books for this very important campaign, where the Jets will try and get back to playoff contention with a brand-new coaching staff led by Rick Bowness. Here, we’ll dive into their three worst contracts going into the 2022-23 season.
3: Brenden Dillon: $3.9 Million AAV, Two Years Remaining
Dillon was brought in via trade last summer to shore up the Jets blue line, a point of long-standing weakness. While the veteran brought grit, physicality, and size to the defensive corp, he was not the Washington-Capitals-quality Dillion of seasons past.
His skill at shutting down opponents took a step back and his numbers across major statistical categories measuring the effectiveness of defensemen — CORSI, Fenwick, Shots For Percentage, Goals For Percentage, and High Danger Chance For Percentage — dipped noticeably from 2020-21.
While many expected Cheveldayoff to move Dillon’s $3.9 million contract — which was inherited from the Capitals — to free up cap space and open a slot for a prospect on the log-jammed blue line, that didn’t end up happening.
Dillon will be an everyday player again in 2022-23, and that’s not a tragedy or anything — although he’s on the decline now, he’s still a fairly useful player and it will be interesting to see if he improves under Bowness and company. But the fact remains there are cheaper, younger, and potentially more impactful defensemen he and his contract will impede from pushing for a full-time NHL gig.
2: Pierre-Luc Dubois: $ 6 Million AAV, One-Year Contract
This contract isn’t bad because of the dollar figure: it’s bad because it indicates the likely departure of a young player who was hoped to be a cornerstone to build around.
Dubois has been the most scrutinized Jet ever since he revealed in late June that he does not want to sign long-term in Winnipeg and would rather test the open market as a UFA in 2024.
That was quite the bombshell from the 24-year-old, who had just come off an exceptional season where he scored 28 goals and added 32 assists for 60 points and was an absolute force up the middle. Among the fan base and media, he was starting to be spoken about as a potential future captain due to his consistently-high effort levels in comparison to some of his teammates who were guilty of phoning it in at times.
Cheveldayoff would have loved to sign Dubois to a lengthy extension this offseason, but the RFA wouldn’t commit to one, making comments he wants to play for the Montreal Canadiens of his home province.
Dubois signed a one-year qualifying offer worth $6 million last month to avoid any chance of missing the start of training camp or the regular season, but the deal just kicks the can down the road. The fact the 30 other teams know he really has only one destination in mind hampers what the Jets can get for him in a trade, and unless there’s a huge change of heart on part of the player, he will be gone by 2024 or earlier.
Sadly, Dubois leaving within the next two years will make the Jets the undisputed loser of the trade that sent Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for him back in January, 2020. Both men recently re-signed with the Blue Jackets— Laine for four years to the tune of nearly $35 million and Roslovic for two years to the tune of $8 million.
Blake Wheeler: $8.25 Million AAV, Two Years Remaining
The biggest albatross around the Jets’ neck when it comes to contracts continues to be their captain.
Blake Wheeler, who will be 36 by 2022-23’s opening game, has regressed badly in the past two seasons and is the team’s biggest liability on defence and at five-on-five. That’s an issue considered he inked an exceedingly-rich five-year contract in September, 2018 that still has two seasons left on it.
The contract was a gamble at the time considering it would end when Wheeler is 38, but it seemed like a safe bet as he was coming off a career-best 91-point season and matched that total in the first season of his new deal.
Unfortunately, Wheeler has not aged like a fine wine. He was minus-17 in 2020-21 and minus-15 in 2021-22, and former coaches Paul Maurice and Dave Lowry misused him by insisting on keeping on the top six even though he was clearly no longer capable of keeping up.
Wheeler can still be a productive player — he remains one of the best passers in the NHL and will still tally his fair share of points, especially on the power play — but the team’s highest-paid guy being only cut out for a third-line role and his leadership skills being highly questionable are both problems.
Mot indicative of how undesirable the contract is is that Cheveldayoff could not find anyone to trade it to this offseason despite exploring that avenue extensively. If he didn’t have Wheeler’s contract on the books, he would have been able to big splash during Free Agent Frenzy instead of standing pat as he did. The contract has, and will continue to, hold the team hostage until it finally expires.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.