Winnipeg made its first move of the off-season this afternoon by retaining Jim Slater’s services for the next three years at 1.6M per annum. The 29 year old from Lapeer, MI. scored a career high 13 goals this past season as the Jets’ third line center on the so-called GST line with Tanner Glass and Chris Thorburn. The former MSU Spartan was also a primary penalty killer for the club, averaging over 2 minutes a night on the PK, a total higher than any other Winnipeg forward.
Winnipeg’s absence of depth upfront combined with some strategic choices by the club pushed Slater into a very difficult even strength role in 11/12, as he faced a 28.5 O-zone start percentage against the toughest competition Claude Noel could throw at him. As a result, his out-shooting numbers look about as one might expect, with Slater finishing 11/12 sporting the worst Corsi Rel of any regular player on the club. To be entirely fair, it would be somewhat unreasonable to hold him entirely responsible for those numbers, since that type of workload would trouble players superior to Slater. He was also compelled to undertake that very difficult role flanked by two inferior wingers carrying no pedigree at all of being able manage any sort of heavy lifting, since Glass and Thorburn are middling 4th liners under normal circumstances.
I’m still feeling slightly mixed about the deal, even with those caveats. Jim Slater would likely be a very adept 4th center/10th forward on a decent team, getting 7-9 minutes a night at EV, being the second C on D-zone draws late in periods, all while continuing regular PK duties. A player that was good at that role would certainly be worth more than the minimum, and Slater’s 1M ticket last year was probably quite near fair value for a player in that slot. If Slater spends the next few years in that sort of position playing 10-11 total minutes a night, 1.6M might end up being pricey by about 400-500k a year.
That noted, it’s possible that given both the Jets’ stated desire to groom potential top-nine forwards from within and the shallow UFA pool at center this summer, they might feel that Slater was the best available option at the price to fill a role for a few years as a 3C while they wait for Mark Scheifele to reach the bigs. If that’s the premise Kevin Chevaldayoff is operating under, the club will likely still be out-matched by deeper teams unless management can, at the very least, find better players to ride shotgun with Slater. Another season with the GST line facing tough comp has the very real likelihood of ending in roughly the same manner as 11/12, with the Jets looking up the standings at ten clubs or more in the East.
I don’t doubt that he’s a popular guy in the room, and he’s likely a decent enough player if he isn’t being buried with no help, but if Jim Slater could successfully carry mediocrities around against top nine forwards, he’d be worth a hell of a lot more than 1.6M, so his ceiling is pretty much where he currently resides. Again, I can’t really hold his EV performance last year against him given the circumstances, so it may well be that Winnipeg’s ability to scrounge up a couple of proper wingers to assist him might ultimately determine if he can manage against decent comp without getting torched. It would certainly be optimal to have matters unfold in that manner, because for the money the Jets have just guaranteed him, that’s precisely the level of performance they’ll need from Jim Slater over the next three seasons.