WINNIPEG—Underachievers or overachievers?
Ladies and gentlemen, we’re speaking of the Winnipeg Jets here, and it’s an interesting debate when you look at where that team was last spring and where it is now.Then, it seems the possibilities were, if not limitless, certainly exciting.
Now? Meh. Or blah. It definitely seemed more “blah” on Sunday at the MTS Centre when the Jets, with the NHL’s lowest payroll, were dropping a 4-2 verdict to a young Buffalo Sabres group that had lost six straight coming in.
The Jets got off to a 7-3-1 start in October, a great start, and seemed to be picking up where they left off last spring. Even the one-sided, post-season loss to Anaheim had injured the collective sense that this was a team ascending.
Since then, lots of ups and downs, and a team defensive record far inferior to last year, which seems to be at the heart of the club’s struggles that currently has Winnipeg in serious jeopardy of missing the post-season.
Most of the players are the same, with a little Nik Ehlers here and some encouraging work from Connor Hellebuyck there. But the lingering uncertainty of soon-to-be-free-agents Dustin Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd certainly hangs over this team, along with the larger question of whether the Jets are ever going to try and compete more aggressively by becoming a cap team and thus rewarding those who pack their rink every game.
We can talk about how the Jets take more penalties than most teams, and give up more power plays than anyone else. They give up more goals per game than they score and have anemic special teams and are, generally, much better at home than on the road.
Blake Wheeler plays like an elite forward most nights, and Drew Stafford has been very good after giving the Jets organization a shot in the arm by choosing to re-sign in Winnipeg last summer after coming over as part of the Evander Kane trade.
But at the end of the day, you have to ask: Do the Jets, with $11.5 million of unused cap space, have the talent to match up with the real contenders in the NHL?
The answer is no, at least not right now. And if Ladd and Byfuglien both leave, it’s hard to see any time soon when the Jets will be able to say they’ve got the talent to really challenge.
Is a Lightning-Drouin reconciliation possible?
Steve Yzerman sounds like he’ll trade Jonathan Drouin when he finds a deal in the best interests of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But doesn’t it seem as though what would be in the Bolts’ best interests would be to work this out?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they kissed and made up,” said one NHL general manager on the weekend.
Yzerman doesn’t have to do anything, and given that we still really don’t know what Drouin is as an NHL player yet, it won’t be easy for him to swing a really good deal unless another team is just over the moon about the former Halifax Moosehead.
The fact he was No. 3 doesn’t necessarily assign him a value. In fact, if Drouin’s draft were done over, he’d still be in the top 10, but not third.
One exec suggested he’s basically Jordan Eberle, who’s been a pretty good offensive player in Edmonton. Yzerman could probably get an older player who could favourably impact his club now, but that would likely come with a salary cap hit and term.
With Drouin, he’s got salary control for years, and a player with upside. Unless he thinks Drouin won’t be able to put up significant numbers in the NHL and play a responsible game, why move him?
What’s behind the Chris Higgins press release?
I’ve been covering this league for 27 years, never saw this one.
A press release from the Vancouver Canucks went out on Sunday announcing that the team intends to trade veteran winger Chris Higgins. That went to the general public, not as a memo to other teams around the league, as the industry usually works.
Why would they do that?
Higgins didn’t ask for a trade. He’s 32 and struggling with two goals this season, and has a deal that pays him another $2.5 million next year.
Now he’s been told to stay home and a press release has been issued, which should have zero impact on whether any team might want to acquire him.
Just seems unnecessary. Seems unnecessarily embarrassing to a solid player.
Forget about Leafs trading van Riemsdyk now
If the Leafs were going to even think about moving James van Riemsdyk, that seems off the table now.
The big forward has a fractured foot and is out 6-8 weeks. If you’re somebody who believes that Toronto is a team that needs a significant second half slide to position themselves to get Auston Matthews, Jesse Puljujarvi, Patrik Laine or Matthew Tkachuk in the June draft, this is encouraging news.
But for Mike Babcock, who has seen van Riemsdyk respond favourably to a new style of play with the Leafs this season, it’s not. But the injury means 22-year-old Josh Leivo, who has had a couple of stints with the Leafs over the past two seasons, should get a nice, long look after being one of the best players from the very good AHL Marlies this season.
Hurricanes featuring an all-American defence
Interesting note about Carolina. The Canes are the only NHL club with an all-American blueline, with all those players products of NCAA schools.
Noah Hanifin (Boston College), John-Michael Liles (Michigan State), Brett Pesce (New Hampshire), Ron Hainsey (UMass-Lowell), Justin Faulk (Minnesota-Duluth) and Jaccob Slavin (Colorado College) make up the Carolina blueline corps these days.
Yandle likely to be moved before deadline
The Keith Yandle situation in New York is an interesting one. While the Rangers have benefitted from having to pay only half ($2.625 million) of Yandle’s salary cap hit this season after sending Anthony Duclair and high draft picks to Arizona last season to get him, that short-term comfort is now giving way to a long-term perspective that probably means he’s gone by the deadline.
The Rangers can’t afford to let him walk as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season after giving up so much, and this isn’t one of those situations in which you’d argue New York’s gain would be the massive salary slot opening up.
He’ll command $6 million-plus on the open market, which means they’d have to move other bodies to keep him. And he doesn’t sound interested in negotating an extension anyway.
So the bet is he’s moving by Feb. 29.
Don’t expect NHL expansion vote anytime soon
As reported by Elliotte Friedman on Saturday Headlines, there will be no expansion vote from the NHL’s board of governors at the all-star game in Nashville.
Instead, the process, at least from the outside, continues to be in limbo. Strangest expansion process I’ve ever seen.
Leafs being extra cautious with injured Nylander
Leaf prospect William Nylander is back in North America trying to heal from a concussion he suffered Dec. 26 at the world junior hockey championship. He couldn’t even fly last week, but made it back to Toronto and is beginning his “return-to-play” protocol with team doctors.
It’s clear the Leafs are taking great care here, understanding that while that concussion is enough of a concern, it’s the next one, if it were to happen, that could really be a setback.
Some suggest there was a plan to get Nylander a taste of NHL action early next month. That must be on hold now.
Red Wings feeling salary cap squeeze
Detroit’s in a real salary cap squeeze, and for the first time in many years, the Red Wings appear unlikely to be aggressive at the trade deadline.
GM Ken Holland knows that the team only has one playoff win in four years, and that tinkering at the deadline in recent years has only cost him picks and prospects. Two years ago, for example, he acquired David Legwand from Nashville in a deal that cost him prospect Calle Jarnkrok.
Legwand didn’t help much, and two years later Jarnkrok is a useful player on an affordable contract with the Predators.
Last year, he gave up a second rounder and prospect Mattias Janmark to Dallas to bring in Erik Cole. Cole was of little assistance to Detroit and Janmark’s a young regular for the Stars.
This season, the Wings have already lost Landon Ferraro on waivers, and are squeezed now on the cap after nobody wanted to pick up defenceman Jakub Kindl on waivers over the weekend. Kindl at least can be injury insurance for the Wings the rest of the way, and unless the Wings get really hot over the next month-and-a-half, Kindl might represent the only extra depth Holland will choose to have on hand this season as he looks to keep picks and prospects rather than ship them elsewhere.