The Winnipeg Jets have been in decline since they reached the 2018 Western Conference Finals. After struggling over the second half of this season and suffering a first-round elimination by the Vegas Golden Knights, they've won just one playoff series over the past five campaigns.
Management faces serious decisions this offseason involving several core players. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and forwards Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are eligible to become unrestricted free agents at the end of next season.
Scheifele, 30, was the subject of trade rumors at the end of last season after raising questions about the club's direction and what was best for his career. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff subsequently met with the center, and they seemed to smooth over the issue.
Since the Jets' early exit from this postseason, however, Scheifele's future has once again become the subject of speculation in Winnipeg. Sportsnet's Ken Wiebe suggested Scheifele and several of the others eligible for UFA status next summer could be playing elsewhere next year.
Scheifele would have considerable value in this summer's trade market after tallying a career-best 42 goals in 81 games this season. He carries a $6.1 million cap hit through 2023-24 and a 10-team no-trade clause.
Clubs seeking a scoring center could be interested in acquiring Scheifele for the coming season or perhaps to ink him to a contract extension. Here are five potential trade destinations for the Jets center based on factors such as cap space and roster need.
Obstacles to a Trade
Twenty-two NHL teams finished this season with less than $1 million in salary-cap space. Should the cap only rise by a projected $1 million to $83.5 million for 2023-24, many of those clubs could lack the space to make significant offseason acquisitions via the trade market.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff could encounter that situation this summer if he attempts to trade Scheifele. His $6.1 million cap hit will be difficult to move unless the Jets are willing to retain a portion of it up to the mandated 50 percent. The center's 10-team no-trade clause could further complicate things.
Cheveldayoff tends to be cautious when it comes to making trades. He could be reluctant to rebuild by shopping Scheifele for draft picks and prospects. If he can't find a deal that fetches a player in return, he could stick with Scheifele and focus on improving the roster depth around him.
That still comes with the risk of losing Scheifele next summer to the free-agent market. However, if the Jets are out of playoff contention leading up to the trade deadline, Cheveldayoff could peddle Scheifele for a return that would help them begin to rebuild.
That wouldn't be the ideal situation for Cheveldayoff or Scheifele, as questions over the latter's future could become an unwelcome distraction next season. Nevertheless, it could become a reality if the salary cap remains flattened for 2023-24.