Jets, Gabriel Vilardi agree to 2-year, $6.875M deal: Why the contract makes sense for both sides

The Winnipeg Jets and forward Gabriel Vilardi agreed to terms on a two-year contract Wednesday, avoiding arbitration. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The deal carries an average annual value of $3.4375 million.
  • Vilardi was acquired by Winnipeg in last month’s trade with the Kings for center Pierre-Luc Dubois.
  • The 23-year-old, who was a restricted free agent and filed for arbitration earlier this month, tallied 41 points in 63 games for L.A. last season.

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

The importance of signing this deal before arbitration

Put yourself in Vilardi’s shoes for a moment. You’re 23 years old and just put together a 23-goal, 41-point season — the best of your young career — before getting shipped from Los Angeles to Winnipeg as the centerpiece of the Kings’ package for Dubois. Would you really want your first Jets contract to be signed through arbitration, after hearing Jets management argue why you’re not worth the raise you deserve? Avoiding arbitration was important for Winnipeg and Vilardi to get off on the right foot. Both parties knew it and this contract should not be a surprise. — Ates

This contract makes sense for Vilardi

There are fans who will look at Vilardi’s two-year contract term and worry: Is it too short? I can understand that perspective — he’s a quality player, turns 24 this August, and Winnipeg could really use some long-term security after Dubois’ early exit, the Blake Wheeler buyout, and the possibility that Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele are also moved this season. That said, I like the two-year term for Vilardi and the Jets, too.

Vilardi will get two years to get familiar with the Jets’ city and the organization before making any long-term commitments. He’ll try to use his 41-point breakout season as starting point for bigger production, continued health, and a solidified role in Winnipeg’s top six. Most of all, he’ll see what Winnipeg has to offer and learn whether or not he sees himself as a long-term fit — and that feeling takes time to develop. — Ates

Why this deal works for Winnipeg

From Winnipeg’s perspective, the two-year term protects against an early UFA exit.

Had Vilardi signed for three years, his contract would end in 2026 — one year before his earliest eligibility for unrestricted free agency. At that time, all he’d need to do to become a 2027 UFA would have been filing for arbitration, guaranteeing a one-year contract. Vilardi’s two-year deal protects Winnipeg against that outcome, giving the Jets two opportunities to sign him long term: 2025, when this contract ends, and again in 2026 if they go short term in 2025. It’s a bit convoluted but it’s the sort of thing you have to pay attention to in Winnipeg, given Dubois’ exit and given the other players who have fast-tracked their way to UFA status in recent years. — Ates

What does this mean for Winnipeg’s salary cap?

The Jets project to start the season with approximately $3.8 million in cap space with 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies under contract. This is plenty of space with which to work: The Jets aren’t in LTIR anymore and will build cap space throughout the season. If Hellebuyck and Scheifele were signed long-term at their current cap hits, you might even argue the Jets were in good position to be buyers at the trade deadline.

We all know that’s not the case: Hellebuyck and Scheifele’s futures remain uncertain, even if we now expect both players to start the season in Winnipeg. (The Jets also still need to sign Logan Stanley, Rasmus Kupari and Declan Chisholm. Those signings will eventually necessitate a player being sent to the minors; Winnipeg should have plenty of cap space to start the season.) — Ates

What comes next?

The added cap space helps Winnipeg if the Jets want to make additions this season in the name of chasing immediate-term success. It also helps if the Jets end up trading Hellebuyck and Scheifele mid-season.

By the trade deadline, rival teams’ needs will be more clear and Winnipeg will have paid most of Hellebuyck and Scheifele’s cap hits. If the Jets are not contenders, the added cap space will open up options by trade, whether in terms of retaining cap hit to increase trade returns or by taking back quality players whose cap hits are less than ideal. Whatever the end route, flexibility helps Winnipeg work — especially this season, before the cap increases next summer.

In the short term, the Jets will sort out Kupari, Stanley and Chisholm’s futures. They might find a way to clear some space on their crowded blue line. They’ll definitely address Hellebuyck and Scheifele’s futures, but perhaps without immediate clarity, just by bringing them to camp. There’s no rebuild on the near horizon; the Jets will try to navigate all of this uncertainty in a way that keeps them in the playoff mix. — Ates

Required reading

(Photo: Sergei Belski / USA Today)

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