It’s official. The Winnipeg Jets now have two of their top forwards, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little, locked up for the foreseeable future.
Wheeler agreed to a six-year, $33 million contract, which will keep him in Manitoba through 2018-19. The $5.6 million cap hit makes Wheeler the second-highest paid player on the team behind Tobias Enstrom.
Little recently signed a five-year, $23.5 million deal, which carries an annual cap hit of $4.7 million. With just over $10 million per season committed to two talented forwards, Kevin Cheveldayoff has the club well positioned under the salary cap. In fact, the Jets currently have nearly $7.5 million in available cap space.
With that in mind, what’s next on the offseason to do list in Winnipeg?
The top priority will likely be signing Zach Bogosian to a long-term contract. Like Wheeler and Little, Bogosian filed for arbitration and a hearing is scheduled for August 2. However, given how negotiations have gone with other players, one has to assume Bogosian and the Jets will strike a deal in the coming days.
Bogosian’s previous contract was a two-year deal worth just $5 million. Needless to say he’s due for a raise.
The 23-year-old defenseman finished with five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 33 games last season. At 6’3″, 215 pounds, Bogosian offers a great mix of size and skill. He has the ability to shift the momentum in a game instantly with a hard hit or smooth end-to-end rush. He is a solid top four blueliner, who should continue to see more time on both the penalty kill and power play. But, most importantly, Bogosian draws key assignments, usually working against the oppositions top forwards.
Considering his abilities, Bogosian is easily worth more than $4 million per season. And, given he could be an unrestricted free agent in two years, the Jets need to draw up at least a five-year contract, similar to Wheeler and Little’s.
Bogosian has the potential to join a core group of players who will lead the Jets for at least the next half decade. That includes the likes of Little, Wheeler, Enstrom, Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, and Dustin Byfuglien. They may not boast major all-star talent, but if the Jets top two lines can continue to grow and improve together, a trip to the postseason is possible.
When the Bogosian situation is resolved, it will likely be the last major announcement out of Winnipeg for the remainder of the offseason. Training camp and then the preseason will be upon us, where the biggest question will be where Mark Scheifele stands in terms of his development.