Winnipeg cannot compete with New York, Los Angeles or heck, even Toronto when it comes to attracting quality free agents. As a result, a common theme is going to arise throughout this piece. Undervalued, underappreciated or cause for concern is the reason all seven of these names are realistic free agent options for a small market team like the Winnipeg Jets to improve its forward core.
Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.
(Note: these seven names are not the cream of the crop of the free agency class, but realistically Winnipeg isn’t signing players like Patrick Kane or Vladimir Tarasenko). Here’s the list in no specific order.
Jesper Fast (Right Wing)
Height: 6-foot-1 Weight: 191 pounds Age: 31 Previous Contract: $2.0 million Analytical Impact: Positive Ideal Role: Third-line checker/shutdown winger Stats: 29 points in 80 games
Reason to Sign: Jesper Fast is a certified Rick Bowness player, he’s an elite forechecker which makes him a true shutdown player who can match up against any line. He’s one of the best third-line forwards in the NHL due to his defensive ability always allowing him to tilt the ice in his team’s favour.
Why He’s Realistic and Available: Fast lacks the puck skills and offensive impact to play higher up in the lineup (the top-six). Furthermore, the Carolina Hurricanes are one of the most savvy and forward-thinking teams in the NHL, so if he hits free agency I don’t think suitors will be lining up to talk to him due to his lack of name recognition.
Evolving Hockey Contract Projection: $2.8 million average annual value (AAV) for three years
AFP Analytics Contract Projection: $2.3 million AAV for three years
I am a huge fan of signing Jesper Fast. He would fit like like a glove in the Jets’ forward core with their old-school top-six/bottom-six forward divide. I’d go up to $3 million AAV at three years in length and start to salivate over a Nino Niederreiter – Adam Lowry – Jesper Fast line stifling opponents consistently.
Tomas Tatar (Left Wing/Right Wing)
Height: 5-foot-10 Weight: 173 pounds Age: 32 Previous Contract: $4.5 million Analytical Impact: Positive Ideal Role: Second-line winger Stats: 48 points in 82 games
Reason to Sign: Tatar has scored consistently at a second line rate in four of the past five seasons. A green flag for continued production is that the majority of his points have always come at even strength. Last season, 44 of his 48 points were at even strength.
Why He’s Realistic and Available: His play style doesn’t work well in the playoffs and has been healthy scratched/benched on three separate teams come playoff time. However, for a playoff bubble team like the Jets, this is a risk worth taking. He could easily fit nicely with any of Winnipeg’s top-six forwards from last season.
Evolving Hockey Contract Projection: $4.3 million AAV for four years
AFP Analytics Contract Projection: $3.3 million AAV for three years
I really hoped the Jets would have signed Tomas Tatar two years ago when he was still a free agent after the first wave of signings passed. I’d be comfortable offering him up to $4 million AAV at three years in length.
Max Domi (Centre/Left Wing)
Height: 5-foot-10 Weight: 194 pounds Age: 28 Previous Contract: $3.0 million Analytical Impact: Negative Ideal Role: Heavily sheltered third line and first-unit power play offensive dynamo Stats: 56 points in 80 games
Reason to Sign: Domi is an elite playmaker, which allows him to thrive in tight-checking low-scoring games. Plus with the added Winnipeg connections (he was born in Winnipeg), there’s a reason for mutual interest between him and the Jets.
Latest News & Highlights
Why He’s Realistic and Available: For all of his offensive talents, Domi is an even worse liability on defence giving up far more chances than he helps generate, according to Money Puck.
Evolving Hockey Contract Projection: $4.4 million AAV for four years
AFP Analytics Contract Projection: $4.75 million AAV for five years
The Jets already have a plethora of forwards who are all-offense and no-defense. Winnipeg runs its third line as a complete shutdown line, as a result, Domi would not work out at all in that role. Furthermore, with his deficiencies, the AAV is too rich for my liking.
Connor Brown (Left Wing/Right Wing)
Height: 6-foot Weight: 180 pounds Age: 29 Previous Contract: $3.6 million Analytical Impact: Neutral Ideal Role: Jack-of-all-trades winger who can play on any line in the top-nine Stats: 39 points in 64 games (in 2021/22)
Reason to Sign: Connor Brown is a very similar player to former Winnipeg Jet, Andrew Copp, in the sense that he’s a great utility forward who meshes well with nearly every player he plays with.
Why He’s Realistic and Available: Brown is coming off a four-game season where he tore his ACL. This injury risk is one of the red flags which makes him a realistic option for a team like the Jets that struggles to attract high-quality free agents.
Evolving Hockey Contract Projection: $3.2 million AAV for two years
AFP Analytics Contract Projection: $3.3 million AAV for four years
While the return for Copp was exceptional, the Jets could really use another player of his caliber to add to their forward depth in case of a notable injury next season. I’d be willing to entertain Brown at $3.5 million AAV for two years.
Jonathan Toews (Centre)
Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 201 pounds Age: 35 Previous Contract: $10.5 million Analytical Impact: Negative Ideal Role: Third-line centre Stats: 31 points in 53 games
Reason to Sign: Controversy aside, Jonathan Toews brings a lot of intelligent hockey intangibles to the table. On top of that, if one of Pierre-Luc Dubois or Mark Scheifele gets moved this offseason, Toews can be a cheap placeholder if all else fails.
Why He’s Realistic and Available: Toews is on the back nine of his career and the Chicago Blackhawks have decided it’s time for a new leadership group next season. He probably wants to escape the spotlight that his old contract and controversy drew to him. Furthermore, according to Money Puck, his “two-way play” has completely evaporated as he’s aged.
Evolving Hockey Contract Projection: $3.7 million AAV for two years
AFP Analytics Contract Projection: Not Available
The big question here is can Cole Perfetti play centre next year? If he can’t, from a value standpoint, Toews is probably the best single-year stopgap if Winnipeg needs a centre. I’d sign Toews at $1.75 million AAV for one or two seasons.
Sean Monahan (Centre):
Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 196 pounds Age: 28 Previous Contract: $6.375 million Analytical Impact: Neutral Ideal role: Middle-six centre Stats: 17 points in 25 games
Reason to Sign: Similarly to Toews above, Monahan could provide some underrated centre depth if the Jets trade any of their top two centres. He was able to prove that he can overcome multiple hip surgeries and still be a productive player in a complementary role with 40-45 points a season.
Why He’s Realistic and Available: A new injury reared its ugly head this season as Monahan missed 57 games due to groin surgery. This unfortunate occurrence gives Monahan some red flags, but he probably wouldn’t be available to a market like Winnipeg without said red flags.
Evolving Hockey Contract Projection: $3.9 million AAV for three years
AFP Analytics Contract Projection: $2 million AAV for one year
Monahan’s situation really depends on how the media portrays him. If they constantly talk about his injuries, it could scare some potential suitors away. Otherwise, I don’t see a world where he signs in Winnipeg. If he’s willing to talk to the Jets, I’d offer him $3.9 million AAV for four seasons.
James van Riemsdyk (Left Wing)
Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 208 pounds Age: 34 Previous Contract: $7.0 million Analytical Impact: Positive Ideal Role: Middle-six scoring winger Stats: 29 points in 61 games
Reason to Sign: “JVR” is on a mission to prove he’s still got something in the tank left to give, plus with a change of scenery there is no doubt he could score 20 goals and 40 points if given the opportunity to thrive.
Why He’s Realistic and Available: van Riemsdyk has developed a reputation for being very turnover prone, thus leading the hockey world to think he’s flawed defensively. When in reality he’s totally average defensively (see defensive stats in the Tweet above).
Evolving Hockey Contract Projection: $3 million AAV for two years
AFP Analytics Contract Projection: $1.8 million AAV for one year
“JVR” has a similar skillset to Niederreiter and the Jets could really benefit from another hard-nosed player who scores goals in the dirty areas. I’d offer him a one-year deal on the higher side of the spectrum at $3.75 million AAV.
Jets Have Some Very Realistic Options to Improve Their Forward Depth
Signing just one of these seven players would go a long way in improving the Jets’ forward depth while signing two of these players could provide some much-needed perspective to the loyal Winnipeg fan base on the team’s direction. Some of the contracts I offered were on the higher side of the dollar figure, this is partially because of wanting to attract free agents to Winnipeg. It’s also important to note that in this hypothetical world where I am throwing cash at players, Winnipeg couldn’t afford all of them, so signing one would significantly lower the dollar figure offered to other potential free agents.
Kevin Cheveldayoff is often very passive when free agency opens, for that reason if I had to guess which one of these players to be in the Jets opening lineup this October; it would most likely be Toews.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them below or message me directly on Twitter @Ehlers4Hart.
All Analytical Impacts were taken from Money Puck. Positive means the Jets controlled play exceptionally when the player was on the ice, neutral it was roughly 50/50 and negative they were destroyed in their own end.
Contract projections were taken from both Evolving Hockey (from ‘Contract Projection Tables’, Evolving Hockey, 5/25/2023) and AFP Analytics.