Nothing has come easily for the Winnipeg Jets this season. Four defencemen who played big roles on last year’s squad departed the club in a variety of ways over the summer and that has coloured the entire campaign. There have been stretches when it felt like that blow was too much to overcome.
However, every time it seems like the Jets might fall out of playoff contention, the boys find a way to steady the ship. Coach Paul Maurice has been a stabilizing force, which is why he was recently rewarded with a contract extension. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck has done everything in his power to keep the Jets competitive and Winnipeg is the only team in the NHL with five players who’ve scored at least 20 goals.
At each of the past two deadlines, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff moved a first-round pick in the hopes a new centre could help his contending team go all the way. It’s hard to imagine there’s any move available to Cheveldayoff that will turn Winnipeg into a serious championship threat this time out, but he rewarded his group by acquiring a centre again — picking up third-liner Cody Eaking for a mid-round pick on Friday.
The Jets have required reinforcements on the back end all season, raiding the waiver wire for whatever they can find. The acquisition of right-shot defenceman Dylan DeMelo — who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer — from the Ottawa Senators certainly helps, but you can easily argue Cheveldayoff should continue to kick tires because Winnipeg has basically gone the entire season giving up more high-danger scoring chances than any other team in the league.
Pending free agents:
• Jack Roslovic, C, 23, $894,166
• Mason Appleton, RW, 24, $741,667
• Jansen Harkins, LW, 22, $767,500
• Sami Niku, D, 23, $775,000
• Dmitry Kulikov, D, 29, $4.3 million
• Nathan Beaulieu, D, 27, $1 million
• Dylan DeMelo, D, 26, $900,000
• Nick Shore, C, 27, $750,000
• Logan Shaw, RW, 27, $700,000
• Anthony Bitetto, D, 29, $700,000
• Gabriel Bourque, C , 29, $700,000
Potential Assets to Move
Jack Roslovic: If there’s one place the Jets are flush, it’s up front. Roslovic is at the end of his entry-level deal and this is his second full season in the league. At this point, his path to a high-usage role seems a bit blocked in Manitoba. You have to wonder if another team out there sees breakout potential for this speedy player who was a first-round pick in 2015.
High-end Forward X: Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler aren’t going anywhere. And if I had to bet, I imagine the same could be said for Patrik Laine, Nik Ehlers and Kyle Connor. It’s just that, when a team has an abundance of up-front talent and a relative dearth of skill on the blue line, your wheels start turning and dots get connected.
Draft Picks: Winnipeg already moved a 2020 third to get DeMelo and now has just four picks in the upcoming draft. Being a competitive team has left this organization a bit prospect poor, so don’t expect Cheveldayoff to part with any selections in the next two drafts easily.
2020: 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th
2021: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th
One bold move Winnipeg could make…
There’s only one way Winnipeg parts with a desirable, under-contract forward and it’s in exchange for an impact defenceman who is signed for at least one year beyond this one. This does get slightly intriguing when you consider the likes of Jonas Brodin (2020-21), Josh Manson (2021-22) and Matt Dumba (2022-23) all potentially being in play.
Again, I don’t see any of the big boys going anywhere. But Roslovic is a guy who might have more value to another organization that’s trying to till the soil and incorporate as much raw talent as possible for a re-tool.
I don’t think Winnipeg should…
Be too conservative just because they’re on the bubble. On one hand, as noted, it’s hard to see this being the Jets’ year. On the other, this is the NHL, crazy stuff happens all the time — now more than ever. The Jets made the conference final two years ago, only to lose to a Vegas Golden Knights team in its first year of existence. Last spring, the Jets lost to another lightning-in-a-bottle squad, the Stanley Cup-champion St. Louis Blues. One thing Winnipeg has in common with those other two teams; a great goalie.
Nobody is suggesting Cheveldayoff would or should burn the future for the next few months. But if this team snags the first wild card and competes in the Pacific Division draw, it will be up against squads it’s essentially neck-and-neck with.