The Winnipeg Jets appear to be one of the teams more likely to go the 4-4-1 protection route than 7-3-1, as the most impactful players they need to protect come from the blue line. If they do that, Vegas might be looking at picking up a young, depth forward from Winnipeg, although there is some chance for a surprise.
Here is who we think the Jets will protect, and which player we think the Golden Knights will pick.
Let’s call this the KISS approach — keep it simple stupid. Scheifele, Wheeler and Little should be considered locks for protection at the NHL Expansion Draft, but after that Winnipeg has a few options. The most obvious keep is Perreault, who played at a point-per-game pace from Feb. 2 through to the end of the regular season. He’s versatile, able to play a top-six spot on the wing or take up a role at centre and he’s signed for the next four years. The Jets should be working with a playoff mentality and Perreault is best-suited to help them get there of all the forwards to be considered for this fourth protection spot.
The other way to approach this would be to protect 24-year-old Adam Lowry who was a key player on the penalty kill and even got a decent amount of power-play time. He’s a centre who won most of his draws and he’s coming off a career-best 15-goal, 29-point season. If you protect Lowry and leave Perreault available, you’re taking the chance that Vegas passes on the latter’s long-term, $4.125-million cap hit — but Perreault could be the type of low-key, productive and experienced player Vegas is looking for. It should not be a priority for Winnipeg to shave that cap hit, since they have plenty of room under the ceiling.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff isn’t known for taking big chances, so we’re thinking he keeps the most versatile player of the bunch and the highest scorer. Then, we wonder if Cheveldayoff can part with a draft pick to get Vegas to stay away from Lowry — perhaps a third-rounder, where Lowry himself was chosen.
One thing’s for sure, Winnipeg got off the hook by having the expansion draft this year, when Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers are exempt.
The ideal route for the Jets would be to get the declining Enstrom to waive his no-movement clause so they could protect three defencemen and all of the forwards mentioned above, but indications this season were that Enstrom wanted to remain in Winnipeg. The team could surprise and leave Myers exposed after his injury-riddled season, but Vegas would likely scoop him up for their top four and that would do far more damage to Winnipeg than losing a mid-20s depth forward like Lowry or Armia.
Josh Morrissey is exempt from the draft and Mark Stuart would be the blue line veteran left available to reach the exposure requirements. By opting to go this route, Winnipeg would continue with a strong top five on the blue line. You can overthink this and protect all your depth options on forward at the expense of Myers, but by choosing the 4-4-1 approach, the Jets keep their big strength on defence and maintain a fairly well-rounded roster.
There is little question the Jets will protect Hellebuyck who, despite a shaky season, is still the hopeful goalie of the future. Winnipeg will still need to address this position in the summer by acquiring a veteran to at least split duty with Hellebuyck, but he’s far too valuable for their future prospects to lose him for nothing. Michael Hutchinson, 27, will remain exposed and there is an outside chance the Golden Knights choose to pluck him from Winnipeg’s roster.
VEGAS PICK PROJECTION
Adam Lowry, C
By choosing Lowry, Vegas picks up a 24-year-old defensively responsible centre who just had his best season ever on offence. Lowry will likely never be a big scorer for the Golden Knights, but he’s someone they can work with, rely on and even give more minutes to, which could lead to another career year on the scoresheet. He’s got one year left on his contract at $1.125 million and won’t likely be an expensive re-sign. Nothing too special, but Lowry is a good piece for a brand new team that will be looking to squeeze out wins any way they can. If the Jets find a way to make a trade with Vegas so they don’t take Lowry, the Golden Knights could opt for Joel Armia, Andrew Copp or Marko Dano.