When arbitration filings were announced earlier this month, the Winnipeg Jets had the NHL’s heaviest workload with five restricted free agents exercising their option to file. But after getting one of the most important signings out of the way more than a week ago by inking netminder Connor Hellebuyck to a six-year deal, the Jets have gone ahead and struck another arbitration case from their summer docket.
On Thursday, with only days to go before his case was set to be heard in front of an arbitrator, the Jets and center Adam Lowry came to terms on a three-year, $8.75-million pact, which works out to an annual average value of $2.917 million. As part of the deal, Lowry will receive his biggest payday up front, earning $3.5 million next season, followed by campaigns of $2.75 million and $2.5 million.
While not a household name outside of Winnipeg, keeping Lowry in the fold on a relatively low-cost and short-term deal is more than worthwhile for the Jets. Though the 25-year-old’s raw numbers took a step back last season — he managed eight goals and 21 points after setting career-bests with 15 goals and 29 points the year prior — it’s worth noting that he missed nearly half the campaign due to injury. On a per game basis, Lowry’s points per game rate leapt to close to half a point per outing. And Lowry’s versatility, his ability to skate fourth-line minutes or slot into a spot on the second unit in a pinch, brings added value to the Jets’ lineup.
Most importantly, though, Lowry’s two-way play makes him one of the more effective depth centers in the league. According to Corsica, among forwards to skate 500 minutes at 5-on-5 last season, Lowry had the second-best Corsi for percentage (57.6) and second-best expected goals for percentage (60.9) despite starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. In fact, Lowry ranked 316th out of 367 500-minute forwards in terms of offensive zone start percentage.
Winnipeg still has plenty of work to do following the signing of Lowry, however. With roughly $18.5 million in cap space remaining, the Jets will be tasked with taking care of contracts for several remaining RFAs, including defensemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey. After filing for arbitration, Trouba, 24, will have his hearing Friday and could land himself a pact worth upwards of $6 million annually. Meanwhile, Morrissey, 23, was unable to exercise arbitration rights. That said, he could be after a bridge deal that leads to a longer-term contract down the road. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will need to keep an eye on the future, too, as Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp will become RFAs next summer. Captain Blake Wheeler will be due a new deal as an unrestricted free agent, as well.
SHARKS, TIERNEY AVOID ARBITRATION WITH TWO-YEAR PACT
For the third consecutive campaign, San Jose Sharks center Chris Tierney saw his ice time increase, and with it came another round of career highs. In 2017-18, the 24-year-old notched 17 goals and 40 points while averaging 16 minutes per game. And while he was stuffing the stat sheet like never before, his defensive play wasn’t going unnoticed. Not only did Tierney score two shorthanded markers and pick up four shorthanded points, but he skated heavy minutes on the NHL’s second-ranked penalty kill and garnered one third-place vote for the Selke Trophy for his effort.
Tierney has been rewarded for his impressive campaign, too, with a two-year, $5.875-million pact that has the added benefit of allowing the Sharks to avoid arbitration with the pivot. And while the short-term deal has its positive for San Jose, who still have another $4.4 million with which they can add this off-season, the contract has its upsides for Tierney, as well. With the way he’s developed, and the potential for him to increase his point totals further in the coming campaigns, he could realistically be in position to land a higher-paying, longer-term deal when his deal runs out ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.
VESEY GETS BRIDGE DEAL WITH RANGERS
Coming out of college ahead of the 2016-17 season, Jimmy Vesey was one of the most sought after young free agents in the league, but the 25-year-old still has more to prove to the New York Rangers and he’ll get that opportunity on a two-year, $4.55-million bridge deal he signed earlier this week with the Blueshirts.
Statistically, Vesey was almost remarkably consistent year-over-year in New York. In his rookie campaign, he fired home 16 goals and 27 points in 80 games while shooting at 13.8 percent and averaging less than 14 minutes per outing. This past season, his sophomore season, Vesey managed 17 goals and 28 points in 79 games with a 12.5 shooting percentage and a 14:20 average ice time.
The hope for the Rangers, however, is that Vesey’s best is yet to come. Hopes were high when they signed him out of Harvard, but he’s yet to reach his full potential. There will be plenty of opportunity to go around with the young Rangers this upcoming season, and if Vesey can fulfill the promise he showed during his college years, New York would definitely be more than willing to pay up to keep the young winger in two years’ time.
BOWEY BACK ON TWO-YEAR CONTRACT WITH CAPITALS
Drafted in the second round, 53rd overall, back in 2013, the expectation was that Madison Bowey would have made his mark with the Capitals by now. But with the blueliner only first getting his feet wet in Washington last season, skating in 51 games and scoring 12 points while averaging less than 14 minutes per game, he hasn’t yet found himself as a key member of the defending Stanley Cup champions’ defensive corps. He’ll get his chance this coming season, however, after inking a two-year, $2-million deal with the Capitals.
Bowey, 23, has more than proven himself to be an effective offensive rearguard at lower levels — he has nine goals and 51 points in 113 games in the AHL over the past three seasons — but the 2018-19 season will off him his first full-time opportunity at proving his worth in Washington. Even with Brooks Orpik out, the expectation is that Bowey will be forced to fight for more than third-pairing minutes. If he can find his groove, though, he might be a quiet 25-point scorer for the Capitals next season.
PENGUINS ADD TO DEPTH WITH GRANT ON ONE-YEAR DEAL
With money tight and the roster all but set, the Penguins weren’t about to make any big splashes in free agency. But looking to bolster team depth and add an effective bottom-six player to the roster, Pittsburgh appears to have done just that Thursday by inking 28-year-old Derek Grant, who spent last season with the Anaheim Ducks, to a one-year deal worth $650,000.
By no means is Grant a blockbuster signing, but if there was any near-league minimum, depth forward worth chasing this summer, it was most certainly Grant. Though he doesn’t have a deep track record in the NHL, Grant stepped into a fourth-line role in Anaheim last season and excelled, setting career highs with 12 goals and 24 points in 66 games.
Unfortunately for Grant, he’s in no way a lock to make the big club next season and he’ll have to battle for a spot in camp. And chances are, if he does make the Penguins’ opening-night roster, he’ll be doing so as a winger given the stable of centers — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and Matt Cullen — ahead of him.
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