Part 2 – Restricted Free Agents

Yesterday we talked about the players that would 100% baring trades be moving with the team to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 NHL hockey season. Today we are going to cover the six restricted free agents that new Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will be tasked with resigning.

This will arguably be the most important task he has other then the draft selection because being able to lock up Ladd, Wheeler and Bogosian to cap friendly long term deals will send a message that players want to play in Winnipeg. If he can’t get those big three signed to anything more then 1 or 2 year deals then it will send the message in the opposite direction. The good news is everything Andrew Ladd has said in the press suggests he is more then willing to sign long term as long as the contract is fair.

LW Ladd, Andrew (2.35M)

The former 4th overall pick in the 2004 entry draft came over the organization in a cap saving trade after helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. At 25 years old his best years are still to come and he showed considerable improvement after he left the shadows of Toews and Kane, breaking the 20 goal plateau for the first time in his career finishing with 29 goals and a team high 59 points.

He’s definately in line for a pay raise and as mentioned above is the number one priority for GM Cheveldayoff to get resigned to a multiple year deal. He is the captain of the team and getting him locked up sends a good message not just to the other players in the league but to the players on the team that if you play well you’ll be rewarded.

With the pay increase will come added expectations and playing in hockey mad Winnipeg if he fails to live up to them he’ll hear about it in the press, I hope he’s able to score in game 1 to give him some breathing room from the media. I suspect he’ll suspect he’ll be signed in a cap hit somewhere around $4.35M over a course of 7 years. My guess is that Chevy will do everything he can to lock him up til after his 30th birthday at the very least. He’s a two time cup winnier on the upswing of his career and they can’t afford not to sign him long term for a lot of reasons.

On ice I have little doubt that his upward trend will continue, expecially if they can find him a number one centre to play with. Expect upwards of 35-40 goals and around 75 points.

RW Wheeler, Blake (2.2M)

After coming over in the Peverly trade from Boston I bet Wheeler wishes he was still in Beantown playing for the cup, but that could work well to Winnipeg’s advantage because like so many of his new teammates they have come from winning organizations as complimentary pieces that could no longer be afforded. In Winnipeg he’ll have a chance to play on the top line with Ladd and as of right now Antropov but if his numbers since the trade (17 pts in 27 games vs 27 ts in 58 games) are any indication he should be poised for a break out year.

At 24 years old but will be 25 come puck drop in Septemeber Wheeler was actually picked 5th overal in the 2004 draft right behind his new linemate in Ladd, so everything that was sad above about Ladd’s potential rings true with Wheeler and getting him locked up long term is only one step behind the imporantance level of signing Ladd.

He came close to matching his career high in points (45) last year but came away one shy. in 2011-12 baring injury he’ll have a career year playing with Ladd likely putting up comparable numbers and challenging for the team lead in points. the unique thing about Ladd and Wheeler is throughout their career they have been very balanced between goals and assists so both have the ability to score and play set up man. If they can get a top tier centerman via free agency or trade this could become a very scary first line, but even with Antropov there it’s still capable of putting up the points and with the drop off in skill between the top two and bottom two lines that is a very good thing.

He’ll likely get offered around $3.75M over four years and can be counted on to break 30 goals for the first time and finish with around 60 pts.

C Maxwell, Ben (0.85M)

At 23 years old his career NHL totals of 32 games played, 1 goal and 2 points with a -10 plus/minus doesn’t scream priority signing. He does have some potential to make this Winnipeg team next year that is very weak down the middle though so it’s likely he’ll get a two or three year two-way deal at around the $850,000 mark again. He’ll have his shot at making the team out of training camp and may earn a spot on the bottom two lines but with his offensive potential (44 points in 57 games in the AHL last season) and True North’s commitment to developing players if he can’t earn a spot on a scoring line out of camp they’ll likely start him in the AHL to let him continue to develop as a scorer.

I expect he’ll get a chance if Burmistrov struggles with consistancy or if Anthropov or another centre gets injured. He may have a strong camp and warrent a chance to play ont he second line between Kane and Little and if he does could put up a 10-15 goal season while benefting from the talent on his wings could end up with 40-45 points.

I’d say it’s more likely that he’ll play the bulk in the AHL and be one of the top scorers for that team.

C Schremp, Rob (0.85M)

Schremp is only 24 years old and yet has played on four different teams and this will be his fifth different city. His career showed a log of promise early on playing on that great London Knights team with Corey Perry but he’s strugled to find his grove in the pro game. He was picked up in 2009 by an Islanders team in desperation and had a decent season putting up 25 points in 44 games. He followed that up with 22 points in 44 games but was a defensive liability at -19 on a team that could not afford any more defensive liabities and finished the season in Atlanta with 4 points and a -1 in 18 games.

While Schremp has been a scorer throughout his career he will not be counted on to score regularly. If he can redevelop his game to become a reliable two way centre he could find himself a very valuable commodity in the NHL but no one needs a centre that is going to be a -20 each year.

Schremp should have done enough in his brief time with the organization to conisder him for a new deal but it will have to be around the same as he was making ($850,000) and only a one or two year deal. He’ll need to do more in his first year with Winnipeg to warrent more.

One thing Winnipeg fans will enjoy is his talents in shoot outs when given a chance, he is a very talented puck handler when no one is on him.

He’ll likely centre the third or forth line to start the season and with a focus on defence first don’t expect great offensive numbers but if he can chip in 10 goals, 30 points and a plus season that’ll be a big win for him. If he does play solid two way hockey he may get a chance on the top two lines before the season is over.

RW Stewart, Anthony (0.633M)

The 26 year old winger will almost definately be brought back and should be due for a pay increase. Not only did he have a break out year playing 80 games and scoring 39 points for the first time in his career but he also added a nice physical prescence with the ability to score.

I think the Winnipeg fans will jump on the Stewart bandwagon pretty quickly as he’s the type of player that Winnipeger’s tend to get behind. He’s also willing to interact with fans on twitter which I’m sure will help his popularity.

He will be signed to a 3 year deal most likely in the $1.25M cap hit range, and he’ll be expected to shore up his plus minus while adding another 40-45 points playing on the third or forth line.

While I’ve stated many times the drop off between the top two lines and the bottome two is significant if Schremp and Stewart can play to their potential it can be the difference between this team struggling to make the play offs or being secure in a play off spot.

D Bogosian, Zach (3.375M)

The third overal pick in the ’08 Entry draft will still only be 21 years old when the season starts but has heard his name mentioned in many a trade rumour.

His plus/minus has been awefull in the past two years going -18 and -27 respectfully and that will have to improve if he wants to live up to his draft hype. Considering that he was picked only after Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty there is a lot of pressure for him to live up to as both of those players have already earned themselves hefty new pay raises this off season.

Bogosian will be brought back and will start the season with Winnipeg but the type of contract he receives will be a tricky one. The team will want to keep the option of trading him open if he continues to falter and perhaps the change of scenery in Winnipeg will be all he needs to correct his downward trend, but if not they won’t want to sign him to an untradable contract. So look for Bogosian to get a 2-3 year deal at a similar cap hit as he has now ($3.375M) or else a longer deal with a smaller cap hit.

Either way he’s a young defenceman and not every player will mature as fast as we’d like but when you’re in a draft class with Alex Peitrangelo, Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson, Michael Del Zotto and John Carloson that are all defenceman that are making a positive impact on their team and were all drafted in the first round after you the pressure is on to step up and deliver.

Signing these key restricted free agents will go a long way to filling out the Winnipeg roster, we said yesterday that we expected Winnipeg to keep their salaries at around $52 million which meant they had about $16 million to resign their free agents and any other available ones. Given my projected cap hits on the above players that would cost the team about $14 million leaving them only around another $2 million to sign draft picks and unrestricted free agents.

So you can see how even though it looks like the Winnipeg owners will have lots of cap space to play with if they try to keep the salary safely under the cap to begin with it’ll be tough to land any of the big ticket free agents out there, but we’ll cover that on Friday. Tomorrow we’ll have some fun with our Mock Draft and a look at the most likely players that will be on Winnipeg’s radar with the number 7 pick overall.

Until then as always please share your thoughts and who you think the Winnipeg team will pick #7.

Part 1 – Winnipeg’s Signed Players
Part 2 – Restricted Free Agents
Part 3 – The Entry Draft
Part 4 – Unrestricted Free Agents fitting in to Winnipeg’s plans
Part 5 – Prospects in the system and their potential
Part 6 – Management and coaching staff

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Jeff Stevenson is a co-founder of winnipegwhiteout.com and co-host of the popular Jets Hockey Podcast. He grew up in Winnipeg, MB and became very passionate about sports, hockey and the Jets. Now Jeff is proud and honored to help bring news and information about the Winnipeg Jets to fans around the world.