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Which Winnipeg Jets UFA forwards will be back?

Four forwards from the inaugural Winnipeg Jets squad are due to become unrestricted free-agents on July 1. While the players due for new contracts are not the big-money stars a team has to think long and hard about for their future plans, they are certainly useful players that can help just about any team in the league.

Jim Slater – Center – 2011-12 cap hit: $1 million

Jim Slater established himself as a fan-favorite among Jets fans this year with a consistent workman-like effort on the third line. A character guy, Slater was a Masterton Trophy nominee and did a lot for the Winnipeg community, appearing in “Take a Jet to Work.”

On the ice, Slater was not afraid to use his body (163 hits), won faceoffs and did not take a whole lot of penalties. He could chip in the occasional goal and did not hurt the Jets defensively. He’s just about everything you ask of a third or fourth line center.

I expect the Jets to do their best to re-sign Slater, but even though he probably won’t demand too much of a raise, there are probably a handful of contending teams that would love him in their bottom six.  At the end of the day, my guess is he’ll stick around and will get something like a two-year deal worth $3 million.

Tanner Glass – Left Wing – 2011-12 cap hit: $750K

A linemate of Slater’s for much of the season, Tanner Glass provided the Jets with some nastiness and pugilism when the team needed it. Not a stranger to dropping the gloves, Glass was also eager to throw his weight around, registering 246 hits last season.  He chipped in five goals and 11 assists and gave the team some “edge.”

While most of these types of guys are easy to find to fill out a team’s lower lines, I believe the Jets liked what they saw and will likely renew his contract at a similar, if not the same cap hit.

Kyle Wellwood – Center – 2011-12 cap hit: $700K

Kyle Wellwood had the best statistical year of his career posting 47 points and matching his career high in goals with 18. He proved to be a bargain free-agent signing based on his production and would be a welcome addition next season if he can put up similar numbers. He’s probably a third line player on the better teams in the NHL but can slot into the top six like he did for the Jets at times.

I’d say he’s worth a one-year deal at under $2 million. The numbers he put up warrant a significant raise, but he’s had down years offensively the prior four seasons. I would not break the bank on him considering his numbers could go in the tank again, but he’s definitely worth another look at the right price. My guess is he’ll remain a Jet.

Tim Stapleton – Right Wing – cap hit: $525K

A under-sized winger with a little bit of offensive talent, Tim Stapleton did his best to avoid heading back to the American Hockey League, where he has spent a lot of his pro career by putting together a nice 8-point month of March, during which he had a five-game point streak and scored a couple of big overtime winners when the Jets were still fighting for a playoff spot.  Other than that late-season stretch, Stapleton was not all that impressive finishing the year with only 27 points.

Although he showed some promise, I don’t believe he will be anything more than a spare part and a journeyman AHLer. Nobody would be upset if he were to be brought back at near-minimum money, but younger players will likely have a better shot at taking his roster spot, especially for a team that is still in building mode.

My feeling is that Stapleton is either let go or signed late in the summer to be a fringe body at training camp.

That’s all for now, next time we’ll take a look at the Jets’ UFA defensemen and goaltender as the offseason continues.