Part 1 – Winnipeg’s Signed Players

While the city of Winnipeg waits for a name we are going to do a 6 part report on what the team could look like on the ice for that opening night Whiteout at the MTS Centre.

Part 1 will look at the players under contract for the 2011-12 season and what potential holes will be left to fill.

Part 2 will look at the restricted free agents, what type of contracts we expect them to sign and how they’ll fit into the team.

Part 3 will be the draft. We’ll break down the first round with our mock draft and talk about several players that we feel could be selected by the Winnipeg franchise when they get there first pick at #7.

Part 4 will look at the unrestricted free agents and if we see any of them fitting into Winnipeg’s plans.

Part 5 will look at the prospects in the system and what we feel their potential is.

Part 6 will look into the team management and coaching posibilities.

To obtain salary and cap information has been used. The rest of the story is purely my opinion and should only be taken as such. As always please feel free to comment with your opinions below.

C Antropov, Nikolai ($4.063M) UFA in 13-14

Nikolai Antropov

At 31 years of age Antropov will be one of the elders on this young team and while he may not need to take on a large leadership role with Ladd and Byfuglien around, he will be counted on to score more than the 16 goals and 41 points he tallied last year; his lowest total since 2006-07 season back in Toronto.

If he expects to remain the number one centre on this team he’ll need a bounce back year and to at least get back to a 20 goal/60 point season.That being said he would be much better suited as a second line centre that would have him playing against the second line defence. The only way that is going to happen though is if a trade or signing for a legitimate number one pivot is pulled off because this teams weakest spot is down the middle. And that’s not a good place to be weak.

LW Kane, Evander (3.1M) RFA in 12-13

Evander KaneAt only 19 years of age (he’ll be 20 come the start of the season) and with 2 years of NHL experience under his belt I’m predicting it here and now that this will be a breakthrough season for him. This is the type of player that Winnipeg fans will fall in love with. Talented offensively and physically. Remember that one punch knockout of Matt Cooke last year? We’re talking about a 20 year old kid that can score, can fight and he can hit as he led the Thrashers with 154 hits last year. On top of that he almost doubled his production from his rookie year by scoring 19 Goals and 43 Points. Don’t be surprised if he scores 30 goals and 75 points this season.

The only thing stopping him from being a number one winger in this league is Andrew Ladd. The plus side to that is he will not see the top line checkers every night and that will help inflate his potential numbers slightly. Unless they land a number one centre, if Antropov struggles, it would not be a stretch to see them experiment by moving Ladd to centre and having Kane play LW on the top unit.

That being said we feel it’s more likely that Kane will play with RW Bryan Little and C Alexander Burmistrov on a young line with plenty of offensive upside. The glaring issue here is that both Kane and Burmistrov were -12 last year and Little had only his first + season of his career. Putting that line out with your top pair defence may be the smartest way to free their offensive talents while protecting their defensive liabilities.

The most important question regarding Kane and the new Winnipeg team is will they be able to agree to a long term extension before it starts to become a distraction and a question of arbitration or another team signing him to an offership. If Ladd is the biggest test this off season, Kane will be the biggest test next off season.

RW Little, Bryan (2.383M) RFA in 13-14

Bryan LittleThe 23 year old winger that can also play centre is going to be relied on heavily in his first season in Winnipeg. As mentioned above if Anthropov struggles his number could also get called to fill the top line centre position and would be a more natural fit there then Ladd would be. It’s also possible he could swap with Burmistrov as it’s been questioned of Burmistrov if he can handle the position in the pro game or if he’d be better suited on wing where he could potentially flourish more offensively.

All that being said, Little had a solid season last year with 18 goals and 48 points while working more on his defensive game and being a +11 for the first time in his career. If he can continue to build off the progress he’s made defensively and get back over that 30 goal plateau he hit in his first full season in the NHL, the second line of the Winnipeg team would take a lot of pressure of the top line of Wheeler, Antropov and Ladd.

Look for Little to benefit from playing with Kane and Burmistrov for a full season and for him to pump out a 20 goal/60 point season.

C Burmistrov, Alexander (1.5M) RFA in 13-14

Alexander BurmistrovThere are a lot of questions still surrounding the 19 year old centerman from Russia. I remember seeing him play a couple years ago as a member of the Barrie Colts against the Sudbury Wolves. The Wolves at the time had Jared Staal and Marcus Foligino. The Colts had Pieterangelo and Della-Rovre. Burmistrov was the most electric player on the ice in that game. Once he learns how to handle the rigors of the pro game he has the potential to be a Valeri Bure type player.

A switch to wing may be better for him offensively but if he’s given a chance to play on the second line with the two other young stars on this team Kane and Little, they could develop into a very nice line for many years to come. For a franchise that said they were not going to buy a team but build one, this would be a very smart step in that direction.

If however a legitimate number one centerman can be found it is possible that he could start the season in the AHL to focus on the defensive aspects of his development. I wouldn’t expect him to stay there for the whole season though. The smart money is that he will either remain the third line centre or jump up to the second line.

It might be interesting to add that Burmistrov might also benefit by the addition of another young Rusian player that may have worn out his welcome in Columbus. This is stepping way outside the box here but if Nikita Filitov was able to be acquired from Columbus, I think these two countrymen might gel very well together. And if Patrice Courmier is finally ready to make an impact I could see them being a very successful third line.

C/W Slater, Jim (1M) UFA in 12-13

Jim SlaterThe 28 year old Slater battled concussion problems last year and has only played more then 70 games twice in his career back in 2005-06 and 2006-07. He was off to a good start with 12 points in 36 games (the previous season he had 18 points in 61 games) so if he’s healthy he should get a solid chance to prove he can still have a role on this team on either the third or forth lines.

Set to become an UFA at the end of the 2012-13 season and with a cap hit of only $1M he may be used as trade bait or simply traded away to make room for younger players with a higher upside as the owners have made it clear they are in to building and developing from within.

Still I see him likely playing out the season in a complimentary/filler role on the third or forth lines.

LW Cormier, Patrice (o.854M) RFA in 13-14

Patrice CormierThe 20 year old out of Moncton was once pegged as a top flight prospect, but that all changed when he got suspended after an ugly incident in junior hockey. His development slowed and he was acquired in the Kovalchuk trade as basically a throw in. He managed to play 21 games for the Thrashers last year but only put up 2 points. Not a lot will be expected from Cormier this year.

In fact I expect that unless he has a break out camp, he will play most of the season in the AHL. He has the potential to be a solid checking forward and possibly put up 15 goals but that potential is likely still a few years off. He could get a chance to take over for Slater if he is injured or traded.

C/W Thorburn, Chris (0.867M) UFA in 14-15

Chris ThorburnThorburn is 28 and has been a reliable and serviceable third/forth line player for the past several seasons since coming over from Pittsburgh in 2006-07 for a 3rd round draft choice. He will not develop past what hs is but under contract until 14-15 at a cap friendly $867,000 so Winnipeg fans should probably get used to him.

He likes to hit which Winnipeg fans will no doubt love as he had 129 last season. If he can focus on his defence and become a plus player it will go a long way because past the top two lines there is not a lot of offensive upside so the bottom two lines better at least be responsible defensively.

If a better option comes along he could be moved and there’s lots of teams out there up against the cap that would love to have a servicable forth liner with a cap hit like Thorburns.

RW Stapleton, Tim (0.525M) UFA in 12-13

Tim StapletonThe 28 year old Stapleton fits into much the same role that Thorburn does and at an even smaller cap hit, so it’s unlikely he’ll be moved around unless it’s a cap related move. For another team there won’t be that much interest in him either.

While he showed some offensive upside in the AHL with 28 and 30 goal seasons, last year he managed only 9 goals in 24 AHL games and 5 in 45 NHL games. He has more offensive talent than Thorburn so to expecting 10-15 goals out of him for a full season wouldn’t be to big of a leap. It’s still a pretty big leap gathering that the players he’ll be playing with on the third and forth lines are not that offensively gifted.

Bottom line is anything more than a 20 point season will be considered a bonus. The most important thing Stapleton has to do, is improve on the -10 he put up last year in the NHL.

D Hainsey, Ron (4.5M) UFA 13-14

Ron HainseyAs the other elder skater on this team at only 30 years of age, Hainsey’s cap hit vs his minutes played and production would be a concern for some teams. With lots of cap room and little veteran players he likely wouldn’t be moved to a another team until the 2014 season if it doesn’t look like he’ll resign. Bottom line is he should be here for a few seasons and we should be thankful to have him.

He has been very durable throughout his career, missing only three games in the last three seasons. He has offensive upside but when relied on too heavily, his defensive game suffers. With the strong offensive coming from Enstrom and Byfuglien he can let them take the offensive chances while focusing on his defense which showed in his first plus season in 2006-07 back in Columbus.

If he can continue to improve on his plus/minus while putting up 15-23 points and playing around 20 minutes a game, he will be doing everything that is asked of him.

D Enstrom, Tobias (3.75M) UFA 13-14

Tobias EnstromLike most players on this team Enstrom is poised for a break out season. At 26 and with 3 NHL seasons he could challenge Byfuglien as the top defenceman on this team. He put up 32 points in his rookie season and added 50 and 51 points in the last two. His plus/minus has gone from +14 to -5 and -10 last year, so while the offensive numbers are great, he does need to remember he’s getting paid to play defense first. That being said, only 3 Thrashers players scored over 50 points last season. Ladd was the only forward to do so with Byfuglien and Enstrom being the other two, so I would have hated to see how this team would have fared had he focused more on defence and less on offense.

This season though he needs to focus on reversing the plus/minus trend while maintaining a 40-50 point season. 28 of his 51 points came on the power play last year. He just needs to find a better balance between his offensive and defensive game and he could easily challenge for a Norris trophy in a few years. His plus minus has to get into the +20’s for that to become an option.

D Oduya, Johnny (3.5M) UFA 12-13

Johnny OduyaOduya is 29 years old and going into the last year of his contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. His plus/minus was the worst of his career dating back to 2000 in the NHL, Swedish Elite or QMJHL so look for him to rebound from that. I suspect he will be traded at some point this season as he would be a very serviceable depth defenceman to a team with legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup. If Vancouver has shown us anything this year, it’s that you can never have too many defencemen.

If he is to stay in Winnipeg he’ll likely either have to re-sign at a reduced rate or have a miracle season, because as we know, this team is in the middle of a rebuild and as its unrestricted players turn 30, it’s normally time to let them go and let your younger players play through some of their mistakes.

If the team has an above expected season and is locked into a play off spot come the trade deadline, it’s possible they’ll hang on to him. But if a good deal comes across the table for a quality prospect or pick they won’t think twice to pull the trigger.

D Byfuglien, Dustin (5.2M) UFA in 16-17

Dustin ByfuglianMany people expected the Thrashers to keep the 26 year old at forward when he was acquired after winning the Stanley Cup last off season, but instead the Thrashers took a gamble and moved him back to his natural position on defence. Many thought this was a mistake, but it shows you everybody makes mistakes but it wasn’t the Thrashers this time. Big Buff responded with a breakthrough year, with 20 goals and 53 points. His previous career highs were 19 goals and 36 points back in 2007-08. His 347 shots were also the highest mark of his career.

He also managed to be a -2 overall, which was an improvement on his last season in Chicago. If he can take the same advice I had for Enstrom and find better balance in his defensive game he could develop into a Noris trophy candidate.

I suspect Dustin to become a fan favorite in Winnipeg and the good thing is he’s locked up until 2017. With a 5.2M cap hit, he’d be a hard player to trade if he struggles. Winnipeg won’t move him if he puts up similar numbers to last year, so it looks like we will be stuck with Buff through good and bad. Let’s hope he can build, or at least maintain those numbers from last year.

I’m going to make a comparison to a former Winnipeg Jet in Keith Tkachuk. The comparison is fitness as it’s been an issue for Tkachuk in the past and it’s been rumoured that the same is true for Byfuglien. The other comparison is their last names are impossible to spell and I suspect that fans may have a love/hate relationship with Byfuglien over his time here, much like they did with Tkachuk.

But fans will sway a lot more to the love side if he can put up another 20 goal/50 point season and find himself on the plus side of the column.

D Stuart, Mark (1.7M) UFA 14-15

Mark StuartThe 27 year old Mark Stuart needs to rebound from his rocky start as a Thrasher and get back to his solid shut down role that he played in Boston. He’s perfectly capable of playing against the other teams top lines but he’s gotta figure out what went wrong in the last 23 games last season.

We shouldn’t expect much more than 5-10 points from him offensively, but if he’s not at least a +10 he becomes expendable and trade-able.

Still I suspect he’ll rebound and regain his form and become the solid shut down guy that Winnipeg needs back there.

G Mason, Chris (1.85M) UFA in 12-13

Chris MasonAt 35 he’s the oldest player currently signed and the fact he’s the back up goalie and extremely excited about playing in Winnipeg should make him a valuable leader to this team. He’s put up decent numbers in his career and is able to play more games if needed, but it’s expected that Pavlec will take the lions share so he really only needs to make 20-30 starts. While his numbers last year were below his career average, I suspect that playing in front of sold out crowds will amp his intensity level and help him regain those career numbers of 2.63 GAA and .911 SV%.

He is a nice insurance policy to have and does give Winnipeg a solid goaltending tandem.

G Pavelec, Ondrej (1.15M) RFA in 12-13

Ondrej PavelecHealth issues plagued the 23 year old netminder to start last season but if he’s healthy he should see 60+ games this season and has the potential to turn into an all star goalie. Getting him signed to an affordable long term deal will no doubt be one of True North’s priories this season and/or next off season.

If Pavelec can continue to improve as he has in his first three seasons, it’s not unreasonable to expect a 2.5 GAA and .925 SV%. Goaltending with that can be the difference from winning and losing those close games and could help land Winnipeg in the playoffs, even with a team in the middle of a rebuild.

Either way a lot of the teams success will rely of Pavlec out as the Goaltending and Defense are much more rounded then the forwards which significantly drop off after the top two lines and there’s still a lot of questions down the middle. How they’ll fill those holes will be the topic of our discussion over the rest of this week.

Based on the player that the Winnipeg team has under contract right now they will need 4-5 Forwards, 1-2 Defenceman. That’s not a very big list considering that it can pretty much be filled by signing the restricted free agents they have. The signed players amount for a cap payroll of $35,941,666 which when you factor in bonuses leaves the club with $23,458,334 dollars to the cap ceiling if it remains the same as it did last season. We all know that it will likely go up as high as another $6-$7 million dollars so the Winnipeg franchise will have plenty of cap space if they wish to spend to the limit. I expect though that Winnipeg will try to keep their roster at around $52 Million to start the season which will give them roughly $16 Million to work with, considering they need to sign Ladd, Wheeler and Bogosian all of which should be do for a raise that won’t leave much more in the room of money to spend if they as we expect resign all three but we’ll touch on that tomorrow.

There are lots of holes and limited resources to plug them, while this team might make the playoffs a first round victory would be something unexpected.

For now I’d encourage you to add your thoughts to players signed who may have a break out year and who may be traded away.

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 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.