The Winnipeg Jets have an opportunity that didn’t exist a few months ago that they need to prepare for. Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents (UFA) at the end of next season (2023-24), while Pierre-Luc Dubois will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season. With the team in a resurgence much quicker than most anticipated, along with the positive vibe that is exuding from the players, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to sign these guys to long-term contracts as soon as possible.
Scheifele, Dubois and Hellebuyck Are the Keys to Jets’ Success
These three have shown they are the key to any version of the immediate future where Winnipeg and the Stanley Cup meet face-to-face. It’s been said that “if you win the middle, you win the game,” and these three own the middle of the ice right now.
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Hellebuyck and Scheifele have been the best versions of themselves this season. Hellebuyck is currently sporting a 2.08 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage, both of which are career-high numbers. Scheifele has scored 10 goals in 14 games, which is tied for fifth in the NHL and is on pace for 59 goals by the season’s end. Dubois has seven goals and five assists this season and has used his physicality and rugged play to get noticed by the opposition and teammates alike. He’s been chaotic and smart at the same time.
Rick Bowness, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler all praised Pierre-Luc Dubois for being a shift disturber and causing chaos, drawing penalties including late on on Carson Soucy.— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) November 14, 2022
“He’s a big man and has that ability to upset the opposition. And he kept his cool,” said Bowness.
Two things Cheveldayoff said before this season were that he was not interested in a rebuild and that the hiring of Rick Bowness would be a seismic change to the club. The latter seems to be holding, which makes committing to these three a necessity. With only two years remaining before these three, along with Blake Wheeler, Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo, are all UFAs, the timing couldn’t be better for the Jets to return to their path of winning a championship. The players are showing spirited passion in their game right now, and should this continue throughout the season, which I think it will, Cheveldayoff should be on his phone in July bending over backward to get these guys to commit long-term.
Both Dubois and Scheifele expressed some real discontent with the club at the end of last season, while Hellebuyck has said that “he was happy to stay with the team as long as the plan is not to rebuild.” However, with the emergence of a new coaching staff under Rick Bowness, the Jets have done a complete 180 and are playing with enthusiasm, energy and accountability, all of which were absent by the end of last year. The offseason chatter was that this roster needed a shuffle, while early returns on this season indicate that may not have necessarily been the case.
Extending Hellebuyck provides the Jets with arguably the best goaltender on the planet. Keeping Scheifele and Dubois gives the Jets two elite centres, and with Adam Lowry signed to the end of 2025-26, the Jets would possess three centres that are all big, strong and physical but can also skate and score. That’s a trio of skill and ruggedness that any NHL club would like to have.
Paying for Their Extensions Would Be Pretty Simple
The answer to how to pay for them is easy. Wheeler, as mentioned earlier, is also a UFA at the end of next season and will be 38 years old. He also happens to be earning a team-high $8.25 million per year, which is 10.38 percent of the team’s cap hit.
The Jets should likely move on from Wheeler or sign him at a fraction of his current salary. This would allow Cheveldayoff to offer the trio, who are currently earning $6 million per year (Scheifele and Hellebuyck earn $6.1 million), in the neighbourhood of $8-9 million per season without directly increasing the budget.
#NHLJets Pierre-Luc Dubois is on a one-man mission to beef up the Players Emergency Assistance Fund by getting under the skin of opponents.— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) November 14, 2022
Calgary’s Blake Coleman fined $5,000 for slew-footing him Saturday.
Seattle’s Carson Soucy fined $2,500 for punching him in head Sunday.
Under the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, a team can extend its roster of players for a maximum of eight years. An eight-year extension would put Scheifele and Hellebuyck at 38 years old at the end of those deals, which would be perfect timing to reassess their futures at the end of their careers.
Wheeler is a great example of why this would be a good deal for the Jets. He has two more years on an extended deal and, at 37 years old, is still close to a point-per-game player and a significant contributor to the team’s recent success. He had his best game of the season this week (Nov. 13) against the Seattle Kraken when he scored the game-tying goal with five seconds remaining in regulation.
Scheifele and Hellebuyck, with their attention to physical fitness, would still be key components to the Jets at the end of an extended contract into the 2032-33 season. Dubois, at 33, would be a power forward with 15 years of experience with some prime years left in him.
Winnipeg Is a Good Fit for All Three Players
The good news is Hellebuyck has already said he would stay in Winnipeg long-term if they remained competitive. Scheifele’s hockey mentor and the person he looked up to was Dale Hawerchuk, a revered icon in the city. I believe Scheifele would like to remain a Jet, being the first player drafted by the 2.0 version of the team and leaving a legacy similar to his hockey hero. Dubois has a connection to the city, as his father Eric has been a coach with the Manitoba Moose since the 2016-17 season.
“I want us to win. I want to be a part of this thing that’s happening here. I want to win a Stanley Cup here.”– Mark Scheifele (from: “‘I WANT US TO WIN’: Jets’ Scheifele has renewed sense of purpose”, Winnipeg Sun, 11/10/2022)
All three players have a reason to stay. Last year was a huge disappointment in terms of results and leadership. A coach surprisingly quitting mid-season could be followed by a downward spiral in attitude and play, and that’s exactly what happened to the Jets. The locker room was in turmoil because no one in a position of authority took charge. They could not get themselves out of it until the offseason and the emergence of Bowness with his intoxicating positivity. He has righted a ship that was lost in the dark and has shown that Cheveldayoff’s vision that the current lineup was good enough to win with proper instruction was on point.
With the sooner-than-expected return to competitiveness and one of the best starts in Jets 2.0 history, taking advantage of that this summer should be the organization’s priority by getting these three players to long-term commitments. Right now, they are having fun, they enjoy the locker room, and for the first time in three seasons, they can see some hope that they can legitimately return to the conversations about who could win the Stanley Cup. I say now is the time for Cheveldayoff to approach their agents with a deal they can’t refuse and the Jets can afford.
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Keith Forsyth is a freelance writer and sports junkie from rural Manitoba who is covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers. Keith loves all sports and is a huge fan of the NFL (Skol Vikings… if you know, you know) and the Montreal Expos (they’re coming back… you watch!). He recently retired from the education world teaching high school, where his greatest passion was coaching young athletes. He brings that same logical, behind the bench type of approach to you as he delivers an insightful look into the NHL and specifically the Jets. For interview requests or content info, follow Keith on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo on articles like this one.