As a small market team, the Winnipeg Jets need to find cheap and valuable contracts to help them compete with the big market teams. After failing to make any major moves this offseason, it seems as though they are going to be running it back with the same lineup that missed the playoffs last season. They currently have a surplus of defencemen and if they were to make a move, they’d give themselves even more cap space to sign some of the remaining forward free agents.
This group of players have either proved in the past to be worth more than their current contract or are being projected that they will do so this season. If they are to vault themselves into contention, they will need these players to outperform their contracts by a large margin. As such, here are the Jets’ four best contracts for the 2022-23 season.
4. Dylan DeMelo – $3 Million AAV
On Oct. 7, 2020, Dylan DeMelo agreed to a four-year contract with the Jets worth $3 million in average annual value (AAV). This contract has been outstanding, as he has been one of the best defensive defencemen on the team, all while playing with a multitude of partners.
Last season, DeMelo was thrust into a top-pairing role with Josh Morrissey, and his game and results never changed. Morrissey enjoyed a bounce-back season, and one of the main reasons for that was the play of his partner. Although he is not the best defenceman on the team, he makes his partner better and can play with anyone in the lineup, or a prospect that is trying to get comfortable in the NHL. That kind of versatility is underrated, and his low cap-hit makes him even more of an asset.
DeMelo has two years remaining on his deal and has shown no signs of slowing down. He will be 31 years old when his contract expires, and the Jets will have a very tough decision to make when that happens. In the meantime, he should be safe from any trade rumours due to his very low cap hit and his versatility, which makes him extremely valuable.
3. Cole Perfetti – $894,167 AAV
Putting an entry-level contract (ELC) on this list might be cheating, but Cole Perfetti is going to play such a big role for the 2022-23 Jets that he needed to be mentioned, as he will immediately be placed inside the Jets’ top-six forward group, likely on a line with Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Last season, he had seven points in 18 games with that duo and showed flashes of talent and progress in every game that he played. He is a pass-first winger who has crazy high instincts and hockey sense, which makes him the perfect linemate to play with a 47-goal scorer in Connor.
Perfetti has two years remaining on his ELC, and he will then become a restricted free agent. If he is to remain at the top of the forward depth chart, the Jets are going to get immense value out of the rookie stages of this contract.
2. Nikolaj Ehlers – $6 Million AAV
The best contract for Jets skaters belongs to 26-year-old winger Nikolaj Ehlers, as he scored 28 goals and 55 points in 62 games last year and had a plus/minus of plus-18, all while being paid only $6 million AAV. He stands to benefit the most from a coaching change, as the talented winger was grossly misused by the previous coaching staff by never being on the first power play, and only being assigned second-line minutes. Fans will likely see his point totals shoot up to elite levels if he is given the appropriate number of minutes in 2022-23.
Ehlers has three years remaining on this amazing contract and will likely be given all of the opportunity to re-sign in Winnipeg when it is over. He was drafted and developed within the Jets system and has become one of the most important players to the current and future core.
1. Connor Hellebuyck – $6.16 Million AAV
The best contract on the Jets belongs to their starting goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck, as the Vezina-caliber netminder is making a paltry $6.16 million for the next two years. Last season, he suffered a bit of a down year, while the team in front of him struggled to find their game under the former coaching staff.
With head coach Rick Bowness’ defensive systems at work, Hellebuyck should be primed for a bounce-back season and a return to Vezina Trophy-level form. As for his coaching, goalie coach Wade Flaherty was the only one to be brought back in preparation for the 2022-23 season.
Hellebuyck will be 31 years old when his contract is up, which has sparked some debate amongst the fanbase as to whether or not it’s a good idea to re-sign him at that age. He has played the greatest number of games for a goaltender over the past four seasons, but he will still be an elite goaltender when that time comes. Do you sign him to a two-year contract extension or lock him down long-term and make him a career-long Jet? Cheveldayoff will have a major decision to make during the 2024-25 offseason when he becomes a free agent. Until then, Hellebuyck will provide the Jets with immense value while being signed to one of the best goalie contracts in the NHL.
Jets Must Find More Value Contracts to Become a Contender
The Jets must find more highly-valued contracts shortly if they are to become a contender. Luckily for them, they’ve already completed step one: generate a good prospect pool. Once you have developed your prospects, you can then maximize their contracts by playing them while they’re still under their ELCs. Players on the team that currently apply are Perfetti, Dylan Samberg and Ville Heinola.
These players can provide NHL-level value while still being paid like a rookie, and that helps the team spend money on filling holes elsewhere. If they are able to take advantage of these contracts now, they will have a lot more to spend in free agency on their glaring hole of a middle-six winger.