The Winnipeg Jets locked up one of their key forwards today as they announced they have signed Bryan Little to a five-year, $23.5 million contract ($4.7 million cap hit), avoiding salary arbitration.
Little, 25 (26 in November), was originally drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the first round (12th overall) in the 2006 NHL Draft after a 109 point season with the OHL’s Barrie Colts. After tearing up the OHL for another season, Little split time between the NHL with the Thrashers and their then-AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves. In 48 games for Atlanta, Little had just 16 points (6-10). Little drastically improved in his sophomore campaign as he posted 51 points (31-20) in 79 games. Little had a down year the next year as his point totals fell to 34 (13-21) in the same number of games. He improved the following season with 48 points (18-30) in 76 games and in his first season in Winnipeg, Little had 46 points (24-22) in 74 games. This past season, Little had a solid season posting 32 points (7-25) in 48 games, which is on pace for a career-high 54 over 82 games.
Now, if Little can prove to be more consistent and re-gain his scoring touch from his sophomore season where he had 31 goals, then I think this deal is fine. Even if he plays like he did this season and just bumps up his goal totals, then I wouldn’t mind this contract too much. However, if Little remains inconsistent and continues to have up and down, roller coaster seasons then this might not be a great deal for the Winnipeg Jets. It’s true that Little has not had the best talent to play with recently, but playing on the top line with Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler clearly helped him. Little can help in other ways aside from scoring as he is good in his own end as evidenced by him receiving the most penalty kill time on ice of any forward on the Jets, but again, he still must find consistency in the scoring department.
The Jets still have work to do with their own players as key RFA’s Blake Wheeler and Zach Bogosian remain unsigned. UFA’s Nik Antropov, Ron Hainsey, and Kyle Wellwood are currently free agents and their return to Winnipeg is up in the air. Alex Burmistrov is also an RFA for the Jets but has said that he is going to play in the KHL for Ak Bars Kazan, though the Jets still hold his rights. The Jets currently have over $13.5 million left in cap space but that number will surely come down drastically when Bogosian and Wheeler are signed. The Jets have added a couple nice pieces to their roster this off-season as the signed forward Michael Frolik as well as trading for winger Devin Setoguchi who they acquired for a draft pick. Setoguchi will give the Jets offense a boost along with the arrival of prized prospect Mark Scheifele. Meanwhile, Frolik can contribute on the penalty kill and can provide some offense if needed.
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