The Winnipeg Jets’ Friday waiver claim of Anton Forsberg has highlighted the unique challenges of building and maintaining a roster and taxi squad this season, and has shown even something as seemingly simple as depth-goalie pickup causes complications in the NHL’s COVID-shortened season.
Forsberg’s Whirlwind Week
The Jets are Forsberg’s third team since last Sunday.
The 28-year-old — who signed a one-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers in October — was waived on Jan. 10 as the club tried to send him to their taxi squad as insurance in case Mikko Koskinen or Mike Smith got injured or had to miss time due to a COVID Protocol Related Absence.
However, Forsberg was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Hurricanes — where he spend the 2019-20 campaign — because the ‘Canes were worried their designated third-stringer Alex Nedeljkovic wouldn’t clear waivers. Nedeljkovic cleared, though, making Forsberg expendable, so they placed him on waivers.
That’s when the Jets swooped in. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was circling above for a goalie for his taxi squad since Tuesday as Eric Comrie was claimed by the New Jersey Devils, who lost veteran backstop Corey Crawford to a sudden retirement.
Problem solved for Jets, right? They got a goalie with 48 NHL games and 185 AHL games of experience who can take the crease in case something happens to Connor Hellebuyck or Laurent Brossoit, and flashy Russian Mikhail Berdin can play with the Manitoba Moose and gain more experience instead of sitting idle on the taxi squad.
Not so Fast — There’s a Catch.
But like almost everything in the COVID-19 era, it’s not so simple. To get Forsberg to the taxi squad, the Jets have to pass him through waivers, just as the Oilers and Hurricanes tried but failed to do.
Usually, clearing goalies through waivers isn’t a problem. However, since the Oilers waived Forsberg, the 38-year-old Smith has landed on the long-term injured reserve. The next goalie down on the Oilers’ depth chart, Oliver Rodrigue, is just 20 years old, has never played in an NHL (or AHL game) and has to come to the team from the Austrian League, where he was playing with Graz EC.
If placed on waivers by the Jets, it’s a near guarantee the Oilers would claim Forsberg right back.
Jets Are Playing Chess With Active Roster
The only solution for the Jets is to carry Forsberg on the active roster instead of trying to send him to the taxi squad. As a result, they’ll be carrying three goalies, 13 forwards and seven defencemen for the foreseeable future.
Related: 3 Bold Jets’ Predictions for 2020-21
That meant a skater had to be removed and sent to the taxi squad. This time, the victim was Kristian Vesalainen. It will greatly lessen the 2017 first-rounder take-home pay as Jets can pay him much less than the $894,000 USD salary Vesalainen, a player on a two-way contract, is entitled to on the NHL roster.
Vesalainen will join a taxi squad that also features David Gustafsson, Dylan Samberg, and Logan Stanley, and will still be an option going forward.
Carrying Forsberg on the active roster also means the Jets have his $700,000 USD contract on their books (players on the taxi squad do not count against the cap.)
Luckily, by moving Bryan Little to the long-term injured reserve prior to their season opener on Thursday, the team can carry Forsberg and remain cap-compliant.
Everybody Will Have to Get Used to This Kind of Stuff
You can forgive Forsberg if he feels more like a means to an end or a name on a piece of paper at this point rather than, you know, an actual human being with feelings who wants to be valued by an NHL team as more than an insurance policy.
But he and other players will just have to get used these types of situations. This is the temporary reality of being a professional athlete in a league trying to pull off a season as a pandemic rages on.
Forsberg won’t get the green light to join the Jets until he spends a week in self-isolation with repeated negative tests, even though he’s only coming from Edmonton. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Forsberg never even left the Alberta capital because he was “probably told Carolina would be putting him back on waivers.”
All Canadian provinces, including Manitoba, require a seven-day quarantine for players who travel in from other provinces, even though there is no such rule for the general population.
If one thing’s clear in these times, it’s that NHL teams need to have a Plan B through Plan Z and must expect the unexpected. Forsberg might never play a game for the Jets, and his acquisition has caused ripple effects, but picking him up was necessary from both personnel and player-development perspectives.