The season has not gone as expected for the Winnipeg Jets. Many people anticipated this would be a team more likely to contend for a top three position in the Central Division than a bottom three position in the Western Conference.
What went wrong? Well, goaltending has been a big problem as 23-year-old Connor Hellebuyck proved unready for the role as undisputed No. 1. Former starter Ondrej Pavelec was sent to the AHL at the start of the season, but things got so bad for the NHL team in the crease that they had to call him back up in January for a number of starts. He won half of his nine appearances and posted an .888 save percentage and 3.55 GAA.
But the goalies can’t be blamed for everything that’s gone wrong this season — the Jets also lack a little skill on the bottom half of their forward unit, have been bitten by the injury bug on defence lately, and cancel out the gains they’ve made on offence by being among the 10 worst teams in shots allowed per game.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is known for taking a conservative approach with this roster, so with the team’s playoff hopes up in the air, we’d expect smaller, subtle moves and nothing too big at the deadline. They could also decide to sell off, in which case things could get very interesting.
There’s no question the Jets need to do something about their goaltending, whether it’s at the trade deadline or in the summer.
Just four points separate the Jets from a playoff spot, although they have played more games (60) than any other NHL team at the moment. With a number of goalies available, from Marc-Andre Fleury to Ben Bishop to Jaroslav Halak to potentially even Brian Elliott, Winnipeg may look to add a veteran netminder to help get them into a wild card spot this season.
If they don’t do that, they’ll want to address it in the off-season to avoid starting next season with just Connor Hellebuyck again. Goaltending is Winnipeg’s most obvious need, so if they make a “big splash” acquisition, it’ll probably be in net.
If the Jets do decide they have a shot at this year’s playoffs, they’d also be wise to search for a bottom pair defenceman, considering Tobias Enstrom will miss a couple weeks and Tyler Myers may miss the rest of the regular season, or at least close to it.
They have a nice collection of young forwards for the top six and a couple more on the way, but if they make a playoff push, they should also be looking to acquire one or two upgrades to the bottom six.
However, there’s a very real possibility that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff recognizes the uphill battle ahead is too steep and that he needs to become a seller. If that’s the case, the Jets not only need to move some of their pending UFAs, but also need to consider trading other veterans if they can, such as long-time Thrasher/Jet Enstrom and 29-year-old Mathieu Perreault.
Forwards: Patrick Eaves, Rene Bourque, P-A Parenteau
Defence: Brendan Smith, Fedor Tyutin, Roman Polak, Dennis Seidenberg, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Cody Franson
Goaltending: Brian Elliott, Ben Bishop, Peter Mrazek/Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller
PENDING FREE AGENTS
Marko Dano, 22, $925,000
Andrew Copp, 22, $925,000
Ben Chiarot, 25, $850,000
Connor Hellebuyck, 23, $667,500
POTENTIAL ASSETS TO MOVE
From the roster:
Drew Stafford: With dwindling ice time and an expiring contract, Stafford is the kind of sizeable depth line forward that a team in the playoffs might be interested in acquiring for a draft pick. He doesn’t seem to be a fit with the Jets moving forward, so it’s time to get what they can for him.
Mathieu Perreault: Although his new four-year contract kicks in next season, the Jets may be interested to move Perreault to a team that needs depth now and will pony up a few extra assets for the term that comes with him. His shooting percentage has been unusually low the past two seasons as he’s struggled to produce offence, but he’s approached 20 goals a few times in the past and he’s 29 years old. With Kyle Connor likely to make a push for the roster next season, is Perreault’s $4.25 million cap hit worth it for the Jets to use on a third-liner, or are the assets they could acquire in a trade better?
Chris Thorburn: If they can get anything for the longtime member of the franchise, they need to do it now. Thorburn has an expiring contract and shouldn’t be part of the plan moving forward.
Jacob Trouba: It’s probably unlikely that Trouba moves at the deadline when teams are more restricted by the salary cap, but given his past request to move, there’s always a possibility it happens.
Tobias Enstrom: Although still a useful part of this team, the 32-year-old has only one more season after this left on his contract and you have to wonder if he’ll be worth re-signing at that time. The Jets should at least consider moving Enstrom if he is willing to waive his no-movement clause to go to a playoff team. He’d be a valuable add for any one of the many teams looking for puck-moving depth on the blue line.
2017: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th (own), 7th (Canadiens)
2018: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th
ONE BOLD MOVE THE TEAM COULD MAKE:
With so many teams looking for a blue chip defenceman and seemingly not that many available, the Jets could get bold and decide now is the time to move Trouba, one year before he hits restricted free agent status again. The trade request is in the past for now, but is bound to bubble to the surface when his contract comes up again. Trouba is averaging nearly 25 minutes a night, plays all situations, and is on pace to smash his career best in points. If they moved him, the Jets could bring in a significant haul as he would become one of the best and the most controllable defenceman available.
BUT THE JETS SHOULDN’T…
Move anything that may help them in the long-term future. While they are just four points out of a playoff spot now, the Jets have a tough road when you look at points percentage, so they can’t be all-in (or even really half-in) for a playoff push this season. It’s been a disappointing year but it would be made worse by trading away an under-23 player who could find his way into the NHL lineup some time in the next two or three years, or even a first- or second-round draft pick. By that time, the Jets’ star players will be squarely in their primes and they should be in a better spot to go for it than they are now. This deadline is either about selling, or making small upgrades/adjustments, but any mortgaging of the future is out of the question.