The Winnipeg Jets are entering a salary cap crunch and the reasons why they are is layered. However, there is one reason that stands out that is rarely talked about: the overpayment of great veterans who are a big part of the team. Players like Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler are good players who help the team, but the contracts they are signed to have the real possibility of becoming albatrosses because the players are in decline and at some point will not produce the same way they do now.
We are already seeing the decline of Wheeler and it happened at even-strength this year. It might stagnant or it might get worse, but at some point we will have to confront the fact that Wheeler is not the player he used to be and while he did turn around his ability to drive play, that is also in decline and the Jets will never get fair value for his contract. His new contract is five years and pays him $8.25 million a season. That means he is going to be paid that much until he is 37. Now, Wheeler’s career trajectory is a little different than most players, but he will have to drop off soon unless he is Jaromir Jagr and it appears he already is declining.
As for Byfuglien; he is still a force of nature, but it seems like his body is starting to break down as ones body does as they get older. In Byfuglien’s case, this means playing 69 and 42 games respectively in the past two seasons. Thankfully, his big contract is only for two more years and the Jets can work around his cap hit by bridging a player or two. When healthy, Byfuglien also makes a bigger impact overall than Wheeler does. He solidifies the defence and gives the Jets a big minute eater.