Resetting the Icecaps’ defence

Brendan McCarthy
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With Postma getting a one-way deal and Kulda headed for Russia, here’s the St. John’s blueline situation

With Paul Postma signing a new one-year, one-way contract with the Winnipeg Jets and Arturs Kulda leaving the Jets family for a contract offer with a club in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, now would seem to be a good time to check Winnipeg’s organizational roster as far as defencemen are concerned, with a special focus on the St. John’s IceCaps.

But before we hit a refresh, a recap of the weekend happenings with Postma and Kulda:

Postma’s deal will pay him $550,000 next season. In a way, that’s a decrease from last year, when his NHL salary was $712,500. But since it’s a one-way contract he’s guaranteed his money even if he is sent to the St. John’s, where his AHL salary was just $65,000 in 2011-12.

It’s also an indication of management’s expectations for him to crack the Jets’ roster this fall — and perhaps some acknowledgement of the difficulty of sending him to the minors since he would have to clear waivers.

Postma had 44 points (13 goals, 31 assists) in 56 games with St. John’s, finishing second in team scoring to Spencer Machacek. The 23-year-old, who also got into three games with Winnipeg, was named the IceCaps’ MVP and top defenceman and selected to the AHL First All-Star team.

He was minus-14 in 2011-12, but his defensive play improved markedly throughout the season.

On first glance, it’s a good deal for both sides. It gives the Jets a year to ascertain whether Postma is what they think they have — a defenceman ready to make the next step — and at the NHL minimum price. Postma, meanwhile, gets the chance to prove them right, while enjoying the security of a one-way deal.

The Jets had made a qualifying offer to Kulda, who like Postma, had been a restricted free agent and he had been considered a player who might challenge for a place with Winnipeg this fall. After all, Kulda, who turns 24 in a week and-a half, had played well in nine games after a call-up to the Jets last season and was the most rugged of the regular rearguards in St. John’s, where he had six goals, 20 assists and a team-best plus-18 rating in 63 games.

But his departure for the other side of the Atlantic is no real shocker either. With seven defencemen in the Jets organization ahead of him on one-way contracts and a bunch of youngsters in his rear-view mirror, Kulda must have been feeling a bit of a squeeze. And as a Latvian who is also fluent Russian and German (Kulda was actually born in what used to be East Germany ), he almost certainly in the sites of teams in both the KHL and DEL, the German elite league.

Even thought he is leaving for bound for Siberia and Novosibirsk, the Jets will retain Kulda’s NHL rights.

With all that in mind, here’s a rundown of defencemen in the Jets’ organization based on contractual status:

One-way NHL contracts (7)

Dustin Byfuglien, Ron Hainsey, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart, Grant Clitsome, Paul Postma

Postma’s one-way contract would indicate the Jets are saving a place for him on their roster. However, with it being at the NHL minimum, they may be willing to pay him that amount in the minors if the situation warranted.

If this is to be status quo, and these seven all stick, there may be room for one more D-man in Winnipeg. But of course there’s plenty of time between now and October for changes.

Unrestricted free agents (2)

Mark Flood, Ron Jones

There have been reports out of Winnipeg the Jets have some interest in bringing back Flood, who started the 2011-12 season with 11 games for St. John’s, but spent the rest of the campaign in Winnipeg, suiting up for 33 games with the Jets. It appears the Jets will be parting ways with Jones.

Two-way NHL contracts (6)

Derek Meech, Zach Redmond, Ben Chiarot,

Julian Melchiori, Will O’Neill, Cody Sol

Of this group, Meech would be the top candidate for work with the Jets; anyone who saw him in the Calder Cup playoffs last spring would testify he looks like an NHL-quality blueliner. The Winnipeg native also has the benefit of having played as a swingman — a defenceman who can play forward in a pinch — with the Detroit Red Wings.

Redmond is the fast-riser, with some expectation for him to push for a place with the big club this fall. But it would be counter-productive unless he was at least top-six in Winnipeg. So entering just his second pro year, he would probably be better-suited to starting the season in St. John’s, where he could assume the featured role Postma had last year.

The remainder are four quality prospects, but they are raw, to varying degrees. Chiarot, who played 18 games with St. John’s last season, has AHL seniority. There’s also plenty of size here — Chiarot is 6-3, 225, Melchiori is 6-4, 210 and Sol is a whopping 6-6, 245. O’Neill is the smallest at 6-1, 205.

Restricted free agent (1)

Brett Festerling

Festerling has been tendered a qualifying offer by the Jets, but there has been no word of his actual signing. He would be valuable to the organization given what looks to be a young St. John’s blueline, and for NHL depth as well. Festerling, in fact, has 88 National Hockey League appearances to his credit.

But here’s something to consider, if not now, down the road: Festerling is another player for whom the European option might be very realistic. He is Canadian, but has a German grandfather. In fact, his twin brother Garrett has been playing in the DEL for the last few seasons with Canadian-German dual citizenship.

AHL contracts (2)

Travis Ramsey, Jake Marto

Ramsey, heading into the second-year of his two-year deal with St. John’s, will be an important player for the IceCaps in that he is a steady, AHL-experienced player who doesn’t yet fall under the official AHL “veteran” quota rule. What’s more, he’s a right-handed shot. Of the eight signed players with some sort of AHL provision in their contract (as well as Festerling), only Ramsey and Redmond shoot right.

The hope is Marto can become the 2012-13 version of Jason DeSantis, who was a revelation as an AHL-contracted player last season, but has since been signed by the Florida Panthers to the two-way deal he probably wasn’t going to get from Winnipeg. Marto spent most of 2011-12 with Colorado of the ECHL, but acquitted himself well in a dozen games with St. John’s and was a good fit in the dressing room.

Overview

With 15 defenceman contracted to the Jets in some way — plus Festerling holding that restricted free-agent offer — it might seem that there’s not much room for additional bodies on the organizational blueline. But be reminded the Jets used 13 different rearguards last season, while the IceCaps utilized 14 (including five who played games in Winnipeg), all but one of them seeing action in six or more games . Just  more proof for the adage you can never have enough defencemen.

Therefore, expect more D-men to be brought into training camp to provide depth at the AHL and ECHL levels, perhaps players like Joey Leach and Norm Ezekiel, a couple of junior veterans who were invited to the Jets’ prospects development camp that concluded on Friday in Winnipeg.

bmcc@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Winnipeg Jets, National Hockey League, Icecaps Kontinental Hockey League AHL First All-Star Jets organization Florida Panthers

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Russia, East Germany Siberia Colorado Winnipeg.bmcc

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  • Jacob
    July 17, 2012 - 07:42

    Defence is thin this year without Postma, Kulda, and Festerling. I dear say Machacek will be in Winnipeg this year as well. Their goaltending certainly has gotten much better with a tandom of either Montoya/Pasquale or Dekanich/Pasquale, either of which are going to give Eddie a real competition for the net. Both Montoya and Dekanich are NHL ready goalies. Hunter Trembley is a great signing by the Caps. He will fit in nicely on the 2nd or 3rd line. Has the potential to flourish under a young coach in McCambridge. Judging by videos on youtube, Ryan Schnell who they also signed seems to be one tough fella. I don't think Schnell understands just how big of a crowd favour he has fourthcoming. With Gangon, King, and Jaffray leading the way for this young squad; this season is going to be extremley fun to watch. It's going to be extremley tough to mimic what they did last year with the defence they currently have. But I believe it's going to be very enjoyable to watch the young guys. Hope to see the Republic Guys, and also the Yetis- who sit down in the corner- at more games next year. GO CAPS GO. EDDIE EDDIE EDDIE EDDIE.