The Winnipeg Jets opted against tendering a qualifying offer to 26-year-old defenseman Nathan Beaulieu on Tuesday, meaning he’ll be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) come July 1.
However, that doesn’t mean he won’t be back in a Jets’ jersey come 2019-20.
Jets’ D-Corps Far from in ‘A’ Shape
Questions about who exactly will patrol the Jets’ blue line in 2019-20 are swirling around as a tornado swirls around a trailer park.
Aside from Josh Morrissey, there’s not much certainty on who the defensive personnel will be, come fall; things are truly in a state of flux.
After months of speculation, Jacob Trouba was finally sent packing earlier this month to the New York Rangers, ending a tumultuous six-season tenure in Winnipeg. The Jets did not get an amazing return on the deal, but the trade was necessary given the team’s financial situation and Trouba’s lack of interest in making Winnipeg a long-term home.
Tyler Myers, meanwhile, is a UFA for the first time in his career. He’s already been meeting with other teams, including the Vancouver Canucks. If rumours are true that the towering blueliner could fetch up to $8 million per season, the Jets will not — and absolutely should not — pay that to retain the polarizing veteran’s services. If they can’t get him for a more reasonable figure, they’ll let him walk.
Then there’s Ben Chiarot, a late bloomer who really came into his own on as a reliable and rugged top-four option over the past two seasons and set career highs in goals, assists, and time on ice in 2018-19. Chiarot, another UFA, is already attracting other suitors and is in no rush to take the Jets’ offer. Rumour is Chiarot could make between $3 and $4 million on the open market — more than the Jets thought they’d have to pay for the 28-year-old.
Lastly, there’s Dmitry Kulikov, who the Jets need to buy out for the sake of their future, and Neal Pionk, a restricted free agent who needs a new deal. Add it all up and there’s a possibility that four everyday d-men may not be back next season.
That brings us back to Beaulieu, who the Jets acquired at the trade deadline from the Buffalo Sabres and immediately threw onto the top pairing alongside the now-departed Trouba, replacing the injured Josh Morrissey.
No Offer Doesn’t Mean a Player’s Gone
Judging from the reaction to this Mike McIntyre tweet, many fans don’t understand the implications of not tendering a player a qualifying offer.
All it means is the Jets have decided against guaranteeing Beaulieu’s salary — $2.4 million — for next season, deeming it too pricy.
While not tendering an offer does make a player a free agent and allows them to court other teams, it doesn’t mean the book is closed on a return, or that the team doesn’t want to — or isn’t allowed to — retain a player’s services.
All it means is they don’t want to retain the player at their current price point. If you recall, the Jets did not tender a qualifying offer to Joe Morrow last June, but still signed him to a one-year extension.
Re-Signing Beaulieu for the Right Price Makes Sense
The Jets could do something similar with Beaulieu this summer. They would be well-advised to consider locking him up and deploying him in a third-pairing role.
Although Beaulieu spent the majority of his 18 Jets’ games as a top-pairing defenseman, his skill set betrays he’s not actually that player. Given next season’s salary cap came in at a lower-than-expected $81.5 million dollars, the Jets, already facing a cap crunch, cannot afford to overpay for someone who’s realistically going to be a third-pairing defenseman like they’ve been overpaying Kulikov for the past two seasons.
Beaulieu is not a perfect defenseman by any stretch; he has struggled without the puck over his 332-game career and is prone to giving up high-danger chances and passes to the slot. However, he is a known commodity who showed decently well in his stint down the stretch, a strong transition player who excels in the neutral zone and at moving the puck. Used correctly, he’d definitely be an upgrade over Kulikov, who earns an absurd $4.3 million dollars per season.
Re-signing Beaulieu to a team-friendly one or two-year deal, for a price point of $1.5 million per season or less, would be reasonable for what he brings. He wouldn’t be a panacea for the Jets defense, but he’s worth re-upping to add a little stability to their in-flux blue line.