Thursday: The Winnipeg Jets are working to bring back a familiar face, as Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press and several others are reporting that the team is closing in on a deal for Vegas Golden Knights center Paul Stastny. If the deal is completed, Murat Ates of The Athletic tweets that it will include draft picks headed in both directions.
Winnipeg has long been looking for a second-line center to play behind Mark Scheifele, and for a few games in 2018 they found one. When Stastny was winding down his last contract with the St. Louis Blues, they sent him to Winnipeg in exchange for a first-round pick and prospect Erik Foley, despite being in a playoff run. The veteran forward immediately found success with the Jets on a line between Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers, scoring 13 points in the 19 games down the stretch. In the playoffs, Stastny was exactly what the Jets had hoped for and trailed only Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Dustin Byfuglien in postseason scoring.
That offseason, the Jets made an attempt to keep him, even moving Steve Mason’s contract out to make cap room. It didn’t work, as Stastny took a three-year deal with the Golden Knights that carried a whopping $6.5MM AAV and was asked to replace some of the production the team was losing from free agents James Neal and David Perron.
Now, two years into that deal and hours before free agency opens, the Golden Knights obviously feel there are better things they can use that cap space on.
The 34-year-old Stastny was still effective this season, but he did take a substantial step backward in offensive statistics. In fact, his 38 points in 71 games was easily the worst per-game production of his career, though that did still include 17 goals.
More than anything, the Jets may be trying to find a way to recapture that magic the team showed in 2018 when they went all the way to the Western Conference Finals with Stastny in the middle of the ice. Or even perhaps motivate an enigmatic Laine who has expressed his frustration in the past at weaker linemates but did enjoy his time with the veteran pivot. Of course, Laine’s name has also been in the rumor mill quite a bit this summer, and taking on Stastny’s $6.5MM cap hit doesn’t leave a ton of room for upgrades to the rest of the roster.
For the Golden Knights, if they’re able to rid themselves of the entire Stastny cap hit they will not only be cap-compliant again, but a lot closer to taking a swing at one of the high profile free agents. The team has been linked to Alex Pietrangelo, though nothing is certain on that front as the Blues re-engaged their captain recently. They have also been trying to move Marc-Andre Fleury’s deal, which would give them ample space to add on the free agent market. Nate Schmidt and Jonathan Marchessault have also been mentioned as potential trade candidates.
Currently, the Golden Knights project to be nearly $3MM over the salary cap of $81.5MM for next season. While you can operate up to 10% over that ceiling in the offseason, clearing Stastny’s contract off the books would give them a lot more flexibility in the coming days.