With the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline drawing near, Sportsnet is breaking down what each Canadian club has to work with as they head toward Feb. 24. We’ve sorted each roster into Trade Tiers to hash out who’s safe, who’s available and who’s likely on the move.
The Jets find themselves at a difficult crossroads as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches.
A conference finalist just a couple seasons back, and seemingly set up to be a perennial Western Conference contender, Winnipeg took a step back this season after watching their blue line get decimated in the summer. But with a week to go before the deadline, the club’s turned things around and now sits right in the thick of the wild-card race.
So, how does GM Kevin Cheveldayoff approach Feb. 24?
There’s no question the team needs to rebuild their defence sooner rather than later, with the current group among the worst in the league at limiting high-danger chances. The question is whether they look to the deadline to address those issues or stand pat in the face of undesirable deals, waiting to handle their business in the off-season instead.
Should they wade into the fray within the next week, let’s take a look at where the Jets stand in terms of potential deadline trade chips:
Not Going Anywhere
No surprise here — young, Vezina-contending netminders don’t grow on trees, and the Jets have theirs inked for the next four seasons. No return could mitigate the impact of losing Hellebuyck.
The same goes for No. 1 centres, and Winnipeg similarly has Scheifele in the fold for the next four years. Scheifele’s been particularly important this season, maintaining his elite form on the top line while the team’s forward corps has been ravaged by injury.
Also holding down the fort amid those injury issues has been Wheeler, who’s increased his value to the club even further by shifting from the wing to centre in the wake of the Jets losing their usual No. 2 pivot. And the veteran has thrived in the role, putting up 51 points through 60 games so far.
While the club’s blue line remains decidedly in flux, Morrissey is the sole constant. The 24-year-old is the only Jets rearguard signed long-term, beginning the first year of an eight-year, $50-million deal next season. Simply put, the team needs more Morrisseys, not fewer.
Letestu could’ve been a useful, versatile veteran to potentially move for defensive help, but he’s out long-term this season with myocarditis, taking him out of the running as a deadline asset.
Ditto for Little, who will miss the rest of the 2019-20 season after undergoing surgery to repair a perforated eardrum.
(Likely) Not Going Anywhere
Connor’s name has filtered into trade rumours as of late, a surprising turn given he’s currently the Jets’ top offensive weapon with 29 goals and 60 points through 60 games. He’s certainly the type of young, elite winger other teams will call on. But given his age, importance to the team’s cause and the fact that he’s signed for six more years, Connor doesn’t move unless Cheveldayoff feels a franchise-altering blockbuster is required to fix his blue line — which wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.
Laine seems very much the type of player a team would regret giving up on too early if dealt at this point in his career. The 21-year-old hasn’t quite panned out as Ovechkin 2.0 through his first three years in the league, but he’s still absurdly young, and with 134 goals through 295 games so far, he’s not far off. There have been times where he and the team have seemed less than lifelong partners, though, with Laine famously telling Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, “You never know where you’re going to play next year,” before he inked his two-year bridge deal with the Jets. That said, there’s no question he’s vital to the Jets’ success this year and beyond, and prying him away from Winnipeg would require a monstrous offer.
The Jets’ greatest need at the moment is help on the blue line, meaning they’re unlikely to move any of their current key names on the back end. Pionk’s logging the most ice-time of any Jets skater, meaning there’s a slim chance he’s going anywhere.
The same goes for the veteran Kulikov, who’s a pending UFA but is holding down the fort along with Morrissey and Pionk, leading all Jets defenders in Corsi For percentage.
Ditto for Kulikov’s blue-line partner, Poolman — the 26-year-old is inked for another season after this one, is a coveted right-hander and has taken a step forward for Winnipeg this season.
The 27-year-old has been a fairly steady back-end presence for Winnipeg so far, leading the club in plus-minus from the third pairing.
Young Niku’s been in healthy-scratch territory as of late, but the 23-year-old, who’s shown great promise at the AHL level, figures to be a part of the team’s long-term plans.
Bitetto’s a potential candidate to get squeezed out of the lineup if the Jets do make a move to bring in help on the blue line, but until then, the team likely keeps him in the fold to watch from the press box and rotate in when needed.
Same goes for Sbisa, who’s bounced around over the past few seasons, but has been a useful depth piece in Winnipeg, leading the team in blocks through 44 appearances so far.
The Jets do have Eric Comrie waiting in the minors should a club be desperate to try Brossoit out as their No. 2. But after a sterling 2018-19 season, the former Oiler’s posted a .888 save percentage and a -9.68 GSAA this season, meaning he likely isn’t targeted by those clubs.
The 26-year-old‘s proven to be a decent depth piece in the past, and could’ve been used to bring defensive help back to Winnipeg, but he’s been out injured for the past month. As of now, Lowry remains week-to-week, meaning he likely doesn’t get back in the lineup soon enough for teams to take a chance on him.
Perreault is a more interesting case. The veteran’s got a higher offensive ceiling, having been near or above 40 points in five of the past six seasons and seeming a good bet for 15-20 goals each year. But an upper-body injury has him sidelined too — while head coach Paul Maurice said recently he’ll likely return before Lowry, it still seems he’s in the week-to-week range, meaning he’s likely out past the deadline.
Probably Safe, But It’s Possible
Ehlers seems to sit somewhere in between untouchable core player and potential key trade chip. Hovering around 30 goals and 60 points for two years before a slight down year in 2018-19, he’s rebounded with 20 goals and 45 points so far this season. There’s zero reason the club should move Ehlers, but if Cheveldayoff finds his roster imbalanced, then correcting it means pulling from a position of strength to bolster a position of weakness. There’s no question the forward corps is the former and the blue line is the latter. And if you need to give up talent to bring in talent, and you have four other marquee forwards that seem more unlikely to move — Scheifele, Wheeler, Laine and Connor — then Ehlers may be the piece that goes in order to bring in a game-changing defensive piece and restore that organizational balance.
Could Be On The Move
If Cheveldayoff elects to swing a smaller deal for defensive help, a forward like Copp could help bring something useful back. The 25-year-old’s got a respectable 22 points so far this season, is among the Jets’ leaders in Corsi For percentage and is signed on for next year as well at $2.28 million.
Past that, the Jets have a number of depth, free-agent-to-be forwards who could be used to try to entice teams as parts of packages. Former NCAA and AHL standout Appleton is among them, but his production in 2019-20 alone won’t move the needle for many teams.
Ditto for UFA-to-be Bourque, who previously spent time with the Predators and Avalanche, and comes in at just $700,000 against the cap.
The top goal-scorer for the Jets’ AHL affiliate last season, Shaw’s shown flashes of potential at the minor-league level. That said, the 27-year-old similarly won’t entice opposing GMs unless he’s part of a larger package.
The former Leaf, Flame, Senator and King has bounced around plenty so far in his NHL career. With the Jets, he’s been one of the club’s most-used, penalty-killing forwards this season, and could be offered up to club seeking special-teams help.
Cheveldayoff’s flipped his first-round pick for deadline help in the past, but did so when the team was far closer to contending, and in greater need of a piece to push them over the edge. With Winnipeg further down the standings this time around, it seems less likely the Jets go that route again with their top pick. That said, if a deal for a marquee name on the back end presents itself, one that could play a key role in pushing the Jets into the post-season and correcting their blue-line issues long-term, perhaps they part with their first-rounder yet again, in a package with one of the above forwards.
More Likely To Move
The Jets’ most likely trade chip heading toward Feb. 24 appears to be Roslovic, the most potent case on the roster of a young forward who’s shown flashes of potential but hasn’t put it all together just yet. He’s got 12 goals and 25 points through 60 games so far this year, both career0highs, and was a better-than-point-per-game player during his last spin through the minors. He’s also got the third-highest Corsi For percentage on the team and sits tied for third-best on the roster in goals per 60, suggesting the 23-year-old might have more to give playing for a club that could give him more minutes — an opportunity he was said to be seeking last year.
If Cheveldayoff is looking to move a forward with some appeal while steering clear of his core group, Roslovic seems his best bet as an asset that could bring in some form of defensive help.