Why the Winnipeg Jets should extend Cole Perfetti long-term this offseason

“The one thing about free agency is that it doesn’t just stop on free agency day.”

That’s Kevin Cheveldayoff on July 1, ostensibly tipping his hand about the Winnipeg Jets’ plans. They’d swung and missed at retaining Sean Monahan and Brenden Dillon — maybe even for the best, if they can make smart use of their cap space — and needed to move on to Plans B and C. If the Jets are to get better it’s going to have to come in the form of a trade or a leap in development from one of the team’s younger players.

It’s easy to see a route whereby Cole Perfetti takes a big step forward this season, Brad Lambert claims a job, Ville Heinola sticks in the NHL or Elias Salomonsson impresses everyone at training camp. But the next trade Winnipeg makes might see the club’s top prospect, Rutger McGroarty, sent packing. Meanwhile, Perfetti needs a new contract after multiple third-period benchings and a series of healthy scratches took the lustre off a season that started with 17 points in 20 games.



Why the Jets haven’t traded Rutger McGroarty yet and what I’m hearing comes next

What will Perfetti’s contract be worth? And how should McGroarty’s situation influence Winnipeg’s approach to it?

McGroarty’s insistence on a path to NHL playing time has proved a challenge for Winnipeg — not only in terms of signing him but also when it’s come up in trade talks. McGroarty’s current position has become a touchpoint for a bigger conversation about the Jets.

If Winnipeg is going to have limited UFA success — and if it’s going to lose the occasional McGroarty, PL Dubois or Patrik Laine — then the Jets’ only hope of leaguewide excellence is to have a best-in-class approach to handling their top young players.

Young players want to know that their team values them, makes them feel like an important part of the future and will support them in their growth. McGroarty doesn’t feel that way. Heinola and Logan Stanley have previously conveyed their hopes of being traded but could now have the chance to become everyday players.

Player development also plays a role in player retention. If Winnipeg isn’t going to clean up on the UFA market, then it must excel in its approach to its restricted free agents — like Perfetti.

By missing on Monahan and Dillon, the Jets project to have a bit more cap space than they did heading into July 1. Assuming that Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and new signee Jaret Anderson-Dolan start the season in the AHL, Winnipeg has approximately $9.5 million worth of cap space to sign Perfetti, Heinola, Stanley and David Gustafsson. It seems as though the Jets keep trying to sign NHL veterans — Darren Dreger reported interest in Adam Henrique and then Blake Lizotte — but missing out on those players may walk Winnipeg into a great opportunity with Perfetti’s contract.

I’ve spent the offseason feeling certain that Perfetti and the Jets were heading toward a two-year bridge contract. It made sense to me that Winnipeg might start in the range of Gabriel Vilardi’s two-year, $3.4 million AAV bridge deal signed last summer. But Vilardi is going to outscore his cap hit and get a big raise next summer. He’ll also be two years away from UFA eligibility, giving him all kinds of leverage should he stay healthy and continue to excel on the Jets’ top power-play unit.

Perfetti is two years younger than Vilardi was when he signed that contract. He’s scored 75 points in 140 games, comparable but slightly better than the 78 points in 152 games Vilardi had scored before last season. The salary cap has also increased to $88 million this summer: If Perfetti gets the same percentage of the cap that Vilardi did, then his AAV would come in at $3.625 million.

Suddenly there’s a better-case scenario available.

Some of Winnipeg’s best work as an organization — and its best value contracts, in terms of players outperforming their cap hit — has come from signing top young players to long-term deals at team-friendly cap hits.

Mark Scheifele is the best example of this: He scored 572 points in 570 games in eight seasons from 2016-17 to 2023-24 — the 18th highest point total in those eight years — all on a cap hit of just $6.125 million. Kyle Connor has scored 357 points in the first 353 games of the seven-year, $7.14 million AAV contract he signed in 2019. Nikolaj Ehlers hasn’t gotten big minutes since signing his seven-year, $6 million AAV contract, but he has scored the 16th-most points per minute in the league in its first six years. When the Jets have bet on their youth — and have gotten those bets right, as they usually do — it’s led to some of the most valuable contracts in club history. Not only do Cheveldayoff and assistant GM Larry Simmons seldom miss when they bet big on young talent, long RFA deals like Scheifele, Connor and Ehlers all signed have helped keep top-end talent in Winnipeg beyond their earliest UFA dates.

To me, this makes drafting, development and retention the most important pillars of Winnipeg’s success. Some teams overpay on the UFA market, working hard to retain veterans. The Jets’ best work has come in the form of value contracts to restricted free agents — and, with a microscope on Jets development courtesy of McGroarty’s unhappiness, this could be the ideal moment in Jets history to double down on their biggest strength.

We can zoom in on comparable players for Perfetti’s contract options.

Senators forward Shane Pinto, 23, signed a two-year, $3.75 million bridge deal with Ottawa. Perfetti, 22, has scored five more points (75 to Pinto’s 70) in the same number of games as Pinto has while playing 285 fewer minutes during that same time frame. (Those 285 extra minutes equate to approximately 20 extra games in Pinto’s favour, using Perfetti’s 14:10 average time on ice.) It seems as though the Vilardi-esque price Winnipeg might start with could become the floor for Perfetti’s ask as opposed to the limit.

Anton Lundell’s six-year, $5 million AAV extension is a nice piece of work by Florida in a better tax situation than Winnipeg can offer. Instead of throwing money at a veteran second-line centre on the wrong side of his aging curve, the Stanley Cup champions decided to spend it on the player they chose two spots after Perfetti went to Winnipeg in the 2020 draft. The 22-year-old Lundell has been entrusted to play 216 games (at 15:49 per game) to Perfetti’s 140 games (at 14:10 per game.) Perfetti’s produced more points per game than Lundell while playing further down the lineup, although injuries have limited his total games played.

If Perfetti signed a seven-year, $6 million AAV extension, I suspect some Jets fans would argue against it. They’d cite his size or injury history. They’d say he hasn’t earned it yet. But let’s take a look at two alternate timelines for Perfetti to illustrate why it could make sense — for the player and team alike.

Season Age at camp Bridge Long term






























$42.5 million

$42.0 million

In the “bridge deal” scenario, we’ve given Perfetti a deal to match Pinto’s. Perfetti is just over one year younger, scores more points per game and many more points per minute, but work with me for a moment. In the bridge scenario, we’ve anticipated top-six success, a rising cap and a raise to $7 million on a higher cap two seasons from now. We’ve given him a five-year deal that takes him two years past free agency, leading to $42.5 million in total earnings over the course of seven more Jets seasons.

In the “long term” scenario, we’ve given Perfetti seven years at $6 million right off the hop. The scenario also buys Winnipeg two years of Perfetti’s UFA status while paying him $42 million over seven years. The big difference? A lower cap hit in the two final years of the contract. The even bigger difference is a guarantee that he’s signed beyond his UFA date. This takes the assumption that being made an integral piece of Winnipeg’s future would be worth forgoing the opportunity to bet on himself on a bridge deal.

Winnipeg pays Perfetti (almost) the same money in both scenarios. If the Jets had any assurance that Perfetti would sign the deals as listed, a lower long-term cap hit — and two extra years of security on a good, young player — would be worth mitigating against the risk of an early departure. If they truly believe in the player, then the $9.5 million they have for him, Gustafsson, Stanley and Heinola, would be better used on signing him long-term.

And if Lundell’s $5 million contract is the ceiling, with deference given to Lundell’s Cup win and minutes played over Perfetti’s superior points per game (and far superior points per minute) then it’s an even bigger win for the club. Whether or not these numbers bear out — and whether or not Perfetti would even entertain a long-term deal — it’s one strategy the Jets could use to retain top young talent. If a top-four defenceman became available later? Then Alex Iafallo or perhaps even Neal Pionk could be the necessary safety valve.

Winnipeg might not be a premier UFA destination. Fine. That weakness comes with strength: cap space to sign top youth to deals they can outplay. Do that enough times and a summer like this one won’t repeat itself anytime soon.

(Photo: James Carey Lauder / USA Today)

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