With the black clouds of free agency uncertainty starting to clear up over the Winnipeg Jets, the focus shifts back to the on-ice reality.
Oh yeah, that.
While the dark and dour situation surrounding the Western Conference playoff standings received some sunshine in a 2-1 shootout victory over the St. Louis Blues Tuesday, Winnipeg (24-26-3) remains tied for 12th in the conference and seven points out of a wildcard spot.
Forget about the current predicament for a second. Let's look to the future — a favourite pastime for Jets fans everywhere — and the reality of what could be a rather delicate situation for the club this summer
Now that all-star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien is locked up for the foreseeable future, what does that mean for the Winnipeg roster — this season, next season and beyond?
The automatic assumption once news broke of Byfuglien's five-year, $38-million contract extension was that these remaining games in February would mark the end of Andrew Ladd's time in a Jets jersey.
If the reports are true, Ladd's ask at over $6-million per year over a long-term pact is a little too rich for Winnipeg's blood. This is based on the premise that Ladd's play has dropped off to the point where it has spooked management and the simple fact that Byfuglien was the desired commodity over the last month or two.
There's the obvious casualty of the deal. Might there be another one?
By making Byfuglien a fishing buddy for the next five-years, the Jets made a declaration about their defence and who it will revolve around.
Winnipeg has just under $14-million in cap space committed to Toby Enstrom, Tyler Myers and Mark Stuart over the next couple seasons. Add in Byfuglien's cap hit ($7.6-million) and the club is in for over $21-million annually.
Where it starts to get interesting, and where the Byfuglien deal could have a significant impact, is in the next contract for Jacob Trouba.
The 21-year-old is slated to be a restricted free agent this summer and a TSN report on Monday indicated his representation was looking in the neighbourhood of six-years at $6.5-million per year.
Sound pricey? Well, that's what some young defencemen, those dripping with potential, are grabbing out of their entry-level contracts. It's not that outrageous.
Should Trouba's ticket come in anywhere near at what the initial reports suggest, cue the outrage over the $27-million plus Winnipeg would be committing to the defence. The cap is only projected to go up slightly from the current $71.4-million ceiling next year, and Winnipeg — with its own internal cap, don't forget — can't afford to be that top-heavy on the blue-line.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff could have a big decision in front of him this summer.
If Trouba wants (or gets) big dollars, consider two possible scenarios:
One: the Jets move on from the player. This is an undesirable outcome, given the potential heading out of town, but Winnipeg might not have any choice but to pull the trigger. Of all the assets Winnipeg has on the back end (minus Byfuglien), Trouba would harvest the best yield.
The obvious question: maybe the club takes another swing at New York Islanders defenceman (and local boy) Travis Hamonic this summer, with Trouba as the big pitch?
The second option for the Jets would be to lock up Trouba long-term and explore a deal for Myers or Enstrom, though the latter would be risky considering the dearth of left-handed shooting defenceman in the system.
To be honest, moving Myers out doesn't seem that likely, either. His front-loaded contract is structured in such a way where the club will only be paying him $10.5-million in real dollars over the next three seasons. For a cash-conscious organization like the Jets, that aspect to Myers' contract is quite attractive.
This is all speculation, of course.
What is crystal clear is that this will continue to be Byfuglien's blue-line for the foreseeable future. He will continue to lead this Jets group, and continue to be the most important cog in the machine, just as he has been through the first five seasons in Winnipeg.
Will the same names be around to follow him next season?
That answer is a little foggy right now.