If David Thomson, Mark Chipman, and the True North Sports & Entertainment staff want nothing else this season – not even bonuses or days off – you know they will be wanting to work well into late April/early May this season.
In the Winnipeg Jets third season of existence in their second act, the team has taken its finest step forward as an organization to not only improve and cement its future in stars such as Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, and company, but to distance themselves from the negative stigma that comes from being a former losing franchise.
If the 2013-14 NHL season brings nothing more than a dissapointing season for the Jets and their rabid fanbase, there will be more questions than answers at that point, but at this point now, it's like we have crossed the finish line before the gun went off.
Earlier this summer, Bogosian, Little, and Wheeler all signed long-term contracts after filing for arbitration to have their pay increased. But the main case for going to arbritration after all three restricted free agents were sent qualifying offers showed Jets fans from the start of the free agency period these three players wanted to stay in the Peg.
Wheeler, the forerunner of the three big signings and perhaps the most important when it comes to offensive potential and where he sits in the Jets forward depth chart, is coming off another good season – 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) in 48 games. Translate that to a regular 82 game schedule and Wheeler has a career season with 70 points (six more than he had in 2011-12).
It makes sense for Wheeler to have a six-year contract at this juncture in his career. He already has 372 NHL games under his belt and has done respectably with 232 points in that span – the last 100 or so coming in Winnipeg in only two seasons.
With the projections to be that Wheeler's 82-game total going from 64 in 2011-12 to a projected 70 in 2012-13 (with a full season, mind you), the roof has only to be raised even higher in 2013-14 for the 26 year old winger.
For Bogosian, a seven-year deal puts him as a future #1 defenseman on this team, but can he deliver in that role or is he more of a second/third defenseman who can play a consistent two-way game?
Bogosian struggled in his two seasons in Atlanta to find any consistency and any real tactics to his defensive game. Always a positive offensively (61 points in 60 games in Peterborough in 2007-08), Bogosian has made a solid home in Winnipeg with 44 points in 98 games (versus 59 points in his first 199 games in Atlanta). Add to that his upgrading defensive play – he is a -8 in his past two seasons, a far cry from his -27 and -18 in his final two seasons in Atlanta).
The seven-year Bogo contract is back-loaded so the cap hit becomes its heaviest when the Dustin Byfuglien contract is done and the Tobias Enstrom contract is fading away. Granted, it's a toss up whether Enstrom may be more of a case to stay in Winnipeg if the last two seasons have anything to say about consistency and production (Enstrom has 48 points in 84 games – 0.57 points per game – versus Byfuglien's 81 points in 109 games – 0.74 points per game).
There will always be the case for a #1 or even a #2 defenseman in front of Bogosian for the time being, but that will give him the time and opporutnity to learn and improve to fill into that role. With the departure of Ron Hainsey, the minutes will be given to Bogosian to fill that expectation that comes with this new contract.
Finally, the Bryan Little contract is not only cap friendly but gives them a former 30 goal scorer at the price of a 20 goal scorer. Though Little has had a 24 goal season in Winnipeg – the 2012-13 season was one where he saw his playmaking abilities come to the fore more often.
In 2011-12, Little had a career high 22 assists which he eclipsed in the shortened 2012-13 season with 25 assists. Over the course of an 82 game schedule, Little would have had a career year in points with 54. Span that over his last three seasons – 48 points, 46 points, 54 points – the Jets #1 centre is on pace to eclipse the 60 point mark if he stays healthy. And if that is so, look for Little to break the 30 goal plateau for the first time since he notched 31 in 2008-09 as a sophomore in Atlanta.
Many more positives can be found than negatives in the Jets camp this year, and with these big three signees, it bodes well for the positivity to become wins on the ice.