Winnipeg Jets buy out franchise icon Blake Wheeler

The Blake Wheeler era is over in Winnipeg. The Jets have placed Wheeler on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out the remaining year of his contract, which carries an average annual value of US$8.25 million.

According to CapFriendly, the total cost of the buyout is $5.5 million. The salary cap hit for the Jets will be $2.75 million for each of the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons.

Winnipeg now has just under $14.5 million in salary cap space with 15 of 23 players signed for the coming season.

That total does not include forward Cole Perfetti, who remains on injured reserve, as well as pending restricted free agent forwards Gabe Vilardi, Morgan Barron, Rasmus Kupari and Kevin Stenlund, along with defencemen Dylan Samberg and Logan Stanley.

Wheeler, who will turn 37 on Aug. 31, exits Winnipeg as the franchise all-time leader in games played (897), assists (550) and points (812).

“From the first conversations Blake and I had when I became general manager, I saw his determination to make our club a success,” said Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

“In our time together, I always saw his drive to make himself and his teammates the best they could be through his work on and off the ice. Away from the rink, Blake and his wife Sam strove to embed themselves in the Winnipeg community and they went to great lengths to exercise their celebrity to benefit numerous charitable and humanitarian efforts throughout the city and the province.”

A parting of ways with Wheeler seemed inevitable after he was stripped of the captaincy by new head coach Rick Bowness just before the start of training camp last September. The Jets played the 2022-23 season with three alternate captains in Josh Morrissey, Adam Lowry and Mark Scheifele.

Wheeler was named team captain on his 30th birthday, Aug. 31, 2016, and during his six-year tenure, the Jets qualified for the post-season four straight times from 2018 to 2021.

The six-foot-five, 225-pound right-winger put together back-to-back 91-point seasons from 2017 to 2019 and during those seasons was considered one of the top play-making power forwards in the NHL.

Wheeler was also applauded for his durability. During his first nine seasons with the Jets (2011-20) following the relocation from Atlanta, Wheeler missed a total of six games, and two of those instances involved being sat out late in the schedule for rest purposes and not due to injury.

His point production began to level off four years ago, and over the past three seasons, Wheeler has missed a total of 33 games as a result of injuries and COVID-19.

Wheeler was originally drafted fifth overall by Arizona in 2004 but did not sign with the Coyotes. He became an unrestricted free agent and eventually signed with Boston in 2008.

During his third season with the Bruins, he was traded to Atlanta in February of 2011 and remained with the franchise up until being bought out by the Jets.

“I want to thank everyone in Winnipeg for all the love and support over these past 12 years,” said Wheeler in a release Friday.

“It has been my absolute honour and privilege to be a Winnipeg Jet and to represent this city and organization. My family and I can’t thank everyone in the city and province enough for everything you’ve done for us.

“Winnipeg is always going to be a home to myself, my wife Sam, and our children: Louie, Leni, and Mase. Thank you so much for the support, love and friendship that you’ve shown us these past 12 years and we look forward to rooting on the Jets in the future.”


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