WINNIPEG — Trotz Mania has reached a fever pitch in the keystone province, but the competition Barry Trotz's services might include a few more teams with a trio of Game 7's set for Saturday night.
No matter which other teams consider a head coaching change, the Winnipeg Jets will be among the suitors when the pride of Dauphin, Man., begins to consider his options, a process that is expected to heat up as early as next week.
The to-do list for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is a lengthy one and there are a number of pivotal priorities he will attempt to achieve, but the majority of the personnel decisions will be made after the head coaching vacancy is filled.
Trotz jumped to the front of the line earlier this week as the New York Islanders made him a free agent after handing him a pink slip.
If Trotz wants to coach in his home province, the Jets will find a way to make the dollars and the term work, even if the amount exceeds $4 million per season.
And if Trotz ultimately decides that he could use a breather or wants to transition to a management role, there will be a number of other candidates who emerge — one of those being Lane Lambert, who has been working with Trotz for more than a decade and is sure to be in the mix for several other jobs that are already available.
Here are four other issues for the Jets to sort out during the coming weeks and months, leading up to and beyond the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal in July:
Figure out what to do with Mark Scheifele
The Jets' first-line centre was already under the microscope for his play this season and only magnified his situation by what he said to reporters when speaking for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury on April 10.
Scheifele made it abundantly clear that he needed to hear a few things in his exit meeting about the direction the Jets are going before making a decision about his future.
The seventh overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft is under contract for two more seasons at a cap hit of $6.125 million and has produced at more than a point-per-game pace in each of the past six campaigns, so he will be in demand if the two sides were unable to find common ground. Though Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that Scheifele had not demanded a trade.
Could a veteran coach like Trotz — should he decide to come to Winnipeg — be able to bring the best two-way game out of Scheifele and salvage the situation?
Even if that’s not possible, the Jets aren’t about to enter a rebuilding phase, so they will tread carefully here and aren’t going to be in a rush to move Scheifele unless they are able to secure a quality package in return.
Sign Pierre-Luc Dubois to a long-term deal
Dubois enjoyed an impressive bounce-back season, basically backing up his words from training camp that he was going to get back to being the player he was before arriving in Winnipeg in the Patrik Laine-Jack Roslovic blockbuster.
Dubois set a career-high for goals with 28 and his 60 points represent the second-highest total (he had 61 in 2018-19) he’s produced in five full seasons in the NHL.
His engagement level stands out as someone who was among the league leaders in penalties drawn and penalties taken, he also brings an element the Jets don’t have enough of when it comes to his raw strength and power.
Dubois generates a high volume of scoring chances at even strength to go along with his team-leading 15 power-play markers this season (for context, goal leader Kyle Connor had eight of his 47 with the man-advantage).
Yes, there was a time during the stretch run where Dubois was limited to one goal during a 13-game span (he added six assists in that time frame) but it’s fair to suggest that he has yet to reach his ceiling as a goal scorer and could be someone who reaches, or at least flirts, with 30 goals for years to come.
Because of that, he’s going to command a raise from his $5 million AAV and $6.65 million salary as a pending restricted free agent.
If the Jets and Dubois don’t find common ground on a long-term deal, he’s likely going to receive a one-year deal — since it’s highly unlikely the organization would go with a two-year bridge that walks him right into unrestricted free agency.
Having the opportunity to suit up for Team Canada at the IIHF World Men’s Hockey Championship and serve as an alternate captain (along with Jets teammate Adam Lowry) is a great way for Dubois to wrap up the season.
Once he has some time to unplug and unpack the campaign, the negotiations are expected to heat up and it will be fascinating to see if Dubois will become the latest member of the core to commit long-term, or if he prefers to consider going to arbitration or taking a one-year contract.
Given the price the Jets paid to bring in Dubois to provide a one-two punch down the middle, this decision could impact what direction the Jets decide to go with Scheifele as well.
Make room on the back end
The future of the composition of the back end has been a perennial question over the past several offseasons, but the shift in the narrative is that the Jets have gone from a shortage to a surplus in short order.
Cheveldayoff believed that he solved the biggest issue surrounding the Jets last summer by bringing in veterans Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon to stabilize the defence corps.
The fact that both Schmidt and Dillon had multiple years left on their deals meant this was more than just a Band-Aid solution, but the Jets' ability to defend did not develop into a strength — though that’s not all on the D-men.
Josh Morrissey had an excellent season and isn’t going anywhere, while Neal Pionk expressed displeasure in his own game — saying he was “embarrassed” when he looks in the mirror and didn’t think he played his best hockey. He appears to be a strong candidate to bounce back, especially after being the Jets' best blue-liner in each of the two previous seasons.
When you consider the emergence of Dylan Samberg, Ville Heinola, Johnny Kovacevic, Declan Chisholm and Leon Gawanke on the Manitoba Moose, it would be a surprise if at least one, and more likely two, veterans were on the move this summer — whether that’s as part of a larger deal involving Scheifele or in separate trades to improve the forward depth.
Bring back Eric Comrie
The backup goalie position was a question mark coming into this season, but Eric Comrie alleviated those concerns by stepping into the role and performing at a high level, despite a limited workload and having to go long stretches between starts.
Sure, that’s part of the job description when a team has a workhorse like Connor Hellebuyck, but Comrie rewarded the confidence shown in him by the organization by going 10-5-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 16 starts (and 19 appearances).
Comrie showed that he’s ready to increase his workload into the 20-plus start range next season, provided the Jets are able to sign him this off-season after he became a Group 6 unrestricted free agent.
Moose goalie Mikhail Berdin is no longer exempt from waivers and is on a one-way contract next season, while the Jets added additional depth between the pipes earlier this month by signing undrafted Finnish netminder Oskari Salminen to a two-year, entry-level deal after an outstanding season in Liiga, where he recorded nine shutouts.
There could be other options available for Comrie, but given his comfort level with Hellebuyck and goalie coach Wade Flaherty, coupled with the magical mystery tour he endured when bouncing between trades and waiver claims that had him part of three other organizations, one would understand if the 2013 second-rounder chose to stick around — provided the Jets make it worth his while with a modest raise.