For those unsettled about Winnipeg’s inability to keep the puck out of their own net, there were plenty of reasons for concern this past week. But when you light the lamp as frequently as the Jets do, sometimes the simplest answer is to outscore your problems.
Like many teams before them the New York Rangers learned this past weekend that stopping the Jets offence is like keeping the ocean waves from the shore.
“I felt like they owned us,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who held back the tide as long as he could before his team surrendered a three-goal third period lead and lost in the shootout. “We tried to survive for two periods and then finally they got a goal and they just kept coming.”
The Jets have depth in a traditional sense in that all four lines are capable of making a difference as demonstrated over the past week.
Most impressive, though, has to be the Jets’ top-end talent. Shutting down Winnipeg’s stars is like playing a game of whack-a-mole — hold one down and the next one pops up.
The Jets boasted the NHL’s first star for the second straight week and neither happen to be their leading scorer (Blake Wheeler) or the player with the latest hat trick (Nik Ehlers). Two weeks ago Patrik Laine earned the honours and this week it was Mark Scheifele with five goals and three assists over four games. That haul included a one-man-wrecking-crew of an overtime winner against the Devils and the shootout winner against the Rangers.
There may not be a team in the NHL that has more players who are capable of taking a game over on their own.
Scheifele’s real-life game cheat
Retro gamers will remember fondly the cheat in NHL ’94 that allowed a near guaranteed goal by coming out of the corner, driving across the net and out-waiting the goalie.
Scheifele is on to something similar with maybe the most-unstoppable move in the NHL right now. His first goal against the Devils on Saturday is a perfect example.
Scheifele drives the net before turning his shoulders towards the puck carrier while reversing flow from forward to backward into quiet ice. That creates immediate separation and leaves him perfectly positioned for a one-timer. Often the only person on the ice who sees it coming is Wheeler and he usually slips the pass right into Scheifele’s wheelhouse. Watch enough Jets games and you see this scenario play out time and again.
Set plays like this are where the off-season skating sessions between Scheifele and Wheeler pay off.
Payment by rank
One of the most interesting comments during our Hockey Night in Canada pre-game show this past week came from Brian Burke regarding William Nylander’s contract (I hear you groaning at me for bringing Toronto up in this space non-Leafs fans and yes I’m going somewhere with this). Burke was left shaking his head at the amount of money the Leafs chose to pay a player he considered the sixth-best on that team. It got me thinking about Patrik Laine’s upcoming extension in similar terms.
Let’s get the cards on the table: I am not a guy with inside information on Laine’s contract negotiations. I also take a long hard look at those who do, considering Kevin Cheveldayoff’s discretion. But it’s not unthinkable Laine could pull down Jack Eichel money, in the neighbourhood of $10 million a year. It could be more. His historic scoring pace is a strong negotiating tool and since Laine hasn’t shown a perceptible ceiling, his agent can argue he will only get better.
If the fantastic Finn does come away with such a contract he’ll be far and away the highest-paid Winnipeg Jet. That begs the question: is he the best Winnipeg Jet?
The answer to that question depends on what you value. Laine is maybe the game’s purest goal scorer and goals are the most valuable commodity you could have.
But by most other measures Laine falls behind Scheifele and Wheeler. Both players log far more ice time and draw tougher defensive assignments. Both produce more points than Laine and will likely continue to do so. And what about Connor Hellebuyck? He hasn’t been the goalie he was last year, but if he returns to that form does he crack the Jets’ top three? That was the common perception last year.
By Burke’s logic the Jets could be paying a player many would consider the third- or fourth-best player on the Jets an eight-figure salary. Anyone have a problem with that?
Market set for Connor?
Speaking of Nylander does his new contract set the market for what the Jets can expect to pay Kyle Connor? Nylander has a 0.73 PPG average over his NHL career. Connor’s average is a hair lower at 0.71 points per game, but I’d bet a lot of money that number will be higher by season’s end. Both players benefit from playing alongside elite talent, which may neutralize the argument Connor is a good player in a great situation.
Back in the fall, when asked if he worried about Connor and Laine lighting it up this season and the salary cap difficulties that could create Cheveldayoff replied: “Bring it on.”
Well, as actress Jaime Pressly exclaimed in an early-2000’s parody flick, “Oh it’s already been broughten.”