Jets Mailbag: Trailing in the playoff race, will Cheveldayoff buy or sell?

Sean Reynolds and Ken Wiebe discuss the Winnipeg Jets current struggles after they sustained their sixth consecutive loss at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.

WINNIPEG - The midway point of the NHL season has arrived and the Winnipeg Jets find themselves below the playoff line and searching for answers.

A tidy 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon snapped a six-game losing skid and allowed the group to take a collective deep breath, but the Jets have one more game on Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers before getting away for the NHL All-Star break.

The Jets are currently five points out of the second wild-card spot and they’ve got four teams ahead of them in the chase.

In many ways, the break is arriving at a perfect time for the Jets, as it’s abundantly clear they’re going to need to come back refreshed and rejuvenated in order to try and make a playoff push.

With the final 40 games set to be played over an 81-day stretch, the marathon has quickly transformed into a wild sprint to the finish line.

And the results of that sprint could be a long way toward some incredibly important decisions for the Jets franchise.

My request for questions for the January mailbag brought a host of interesting topics to the table.

As usual, some of those will be reserved for more expansive columns and the other thing I want to clarify is that, for those wondering about head coaching options for next season, we know that interim head coach Dave Lowry is going to be behind the bench for the final 41 games of the regular season.

While some folks are rushing to judgment, there is ample time remaining for Lowry to show whether or not he’s going to have the interim label removed.

If or when a full coaching search is conducted, that’s when the topic will be examined fully.

For the time being, let’s dig into your questions and try to provide some answers.

Despite the fact that it’s known that the Jets are trying to win with Blake Wheeler under contract through 2023-24, what are the odds that they go against that and try to retool/rebuild?
—Hugh Wichenko

Buy or sell? That is the complex question Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his management team are going to have to navigate here during the next several weeks. Things have not gone the way Cheveldayoff or the Jets players thought it would to this point and that makes things incredibly interesting.

No, I don’t see the Jets opting to embrace a rebuild, as it doesn’t line up with the competitive window they’re in — especially when you look at the contract status for many of the core pieces on the roster. However, if the Jets can’t get back into the race, they will definitely need to consider moving unrestricted free agents like Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny. Copp is someone the Jets would like to sign long-term, but if negotiations are not progressing, he’s going to be a guy who attracts ample interest.

There are not a lot of middle-six forwards who can contribute offensively, are responsible defensively and are used on both the penalty kill and the power play that carry a manageable cap hit ($3.64 million). When it comes to the potential of moving Copp, though, one would imagine the Jets would prefer a younger forward with team control on his contract or a prospect that is knocking on the door and ready to contribute as early as next season. That’s not to say the Jets aren’t interested in a high draft pick, but they’re likely looking for assets that can help them retool on the fly, not rebuild.

As for Stastny, he became the sixth member of the Jets to hit double digits in goals on the weekend, he’s grown into an important leader with this group and there would be interest in having him back next season on a reduced salary. However, you can bet there will be teams that would love to add Stastny as an important depth piece, should he be made available. At 36, Stastny knows he’s running out of chances to sip from Lord Stanley’s mug and if the Jets fall out of contention, he will be viewed as a guy who could help push a team over the top.

Florida Panthers 2020 draft pick Anton Lundell is clearly outperforming Jets draft pick Cole Perfetti so far. By the eye test, it looks like another missed draft selection to maximize the draft slot in production and position. How can the Jets avoid misses like this in the future?
—Tony Landry

While the situations are not exactly the same, this reminds me of the early comparison and debate when the Jets selected Mark Scheifele seventh overall in 2011 and fellow centre Sean Couturier went next to the Philadelphia Flyers. When Scheifele returned to the Barrie Colts of the OHL and Couturier made the NHL immediately and put up 27 points, many folks were rushing to declare the Flyers the early victors.

But this isn’t a race to see who will produce more in the NHL as a rookie, which Lundell — who was chosen 12th overall and is a fantastic player — is obviously doing.

Lundell was a guy who would have been of great interest to the Jets, given his strong two-way game, but Perfetti (chosen 10th overall) projected to be more of a point producer. Right now, Lundell has an edge (10 goals, 32 points in 42 games for one of the best teams in the NHL) but he’s also had more of an opportunity to this point. Perfetti (one goal, three points in 11 games) is showing plenty of glimpses of his smarts and offensive potential since seeing an increase in ice time and a promotion to the Jets’ top line.

More time is required to see who is going to be the more productive player, but one of the other parallels I see is that, no matter what happens, the chances are pretty good that both the Jets and Panthers are going to be happy with how things turn out — just like it did for the Jets and Flyers after the selection of Scheifele and Couturier.

Is having Kyle Connor permanently on his wing enough for Pierre-Luce Dubois to extend his contract for five-plus years?
—Craig Zamzow

As former Jets head coach Paul Maurice liked to say, nothing is permanent in the NHL. But it’s hard to envision the way things are going right now and thinking that Duobis and Connor won’t play a lot together during the coming seasons — and that has to be appealing to Dubois.

While recognizing that Dubois spent time on a line with Artemi Panarin when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets, he didn't stick around after becoming an unrestricted free agent and chose to sign with the New York Rangers. Connor’s finishing ability is elite and the chemistry between the two players is undeniable and he's locked up through the 2025-26 campaign.

Seeing what Perfetti has done with the trio would only add to the interest level when it comes to sticking around for the long-term. After an emotional exit from Columbus, the expectation is that Dubois is looking for long-term stability and that’s why my contention is that he’ll become the next member of the Jets to make a long-term commitment.

While the jets have a glut of D, Who is likely on the move if somebody pushes in for you and do you see the same good long term problems I do?
—Twitter user @eoghanisowen

The Jets need to make room for their youth. Assuming there are viable trade options in the off-season with appropriate return for all five of the veteran D with term, which one should the Jets move first?
—Twitter user @AavcoCup

Who would the Jets move out of their defence to make room for one of the kids? It would free up a lot of money too (for Andrew Copp/Pierre-Luc Dubois?)
—Jon Meseman

Because there is so much interest in what the Jets are planning to do with the defence corps in both the short-term and the long-term, it’s natural for there to be a lot of questions pouring in on this topic. So let’s dive into it, while making it clear at the outset that there are certain things we don’t currently know that could impact the decision-making process, like how long will Logan Stanley and Dylan Samberg be out with their week-to-week ailments?

As for the glut on defence, when you consider the issues the Jets had to work through during the previous two seasons, it’s clear that having depth is better than not having enough of it. Case in point was Johnny Kovacevic becoming the 11th different player to suit up on defence before the season had hit the midway point. But while being able to go 11 deep is a nice problem to have, it doesn’t leave enough room for some of the younger guys to spread their wings or earn regular work.

When the Jets brought in Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon during the off-season, one of the benefits was that both players came with term on their respective contracts, meaning this was not just a Band-Aid solution. Josh Morrissey has been the Jets' most consistent blue-liner this season and both he, Neal Pionk and Nate Schmidt are signed beyond the 2024-25 season. Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo have contracts that expire after the 2023-24 season and given that their cap hits are lower, they could conceivably be easier to move.

That doesn’t mean the Jets want to get rid of any of them, but they’ll have to at least consider entertaining calls, depending on how the weeks leading up the NHL trade deadline on Mar. 21 go.

The Jets chose to protect Stanley over DeMelo for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, but DeMelo has since been used at times on the top pairing with Morrissey, so that could complicate matters. He’s also one of only two right-handed shots (with Pionk) in the regular rotation, which enhances his value but also could make him harder to replace. Schmidt and Dillon have made an impact on and off the ice, so the Jets wouldn’t be in a hurry to move on from them either.

What we know is that almost all contending teams are looking to bolster the blue line when building toward a long playoff push. Is there a way of creating an opening while improving the salary cap situation? That’s what Cheveldayoff will be looking toward in any potential deal that is made.

I understand all three questions asked for me to make a firm declaration of who should be moved to make room, but I honestly need to see more from both Heinola and Samberg — and from some of the aforementioned veterans before being ready to cast my vote. Thanks in advance for your patience and let’s agree to revisit the topic again next month.

What do you think the Jets' long-term plan is with Ville Heinola? He’s a first rounder with first-round talent, who won’t get a shot. I understand there are five veterans who deserve to be in, which I agree with. But I’d hate to see another Sami Niku situation with a player who is much more skilled than he was/is.
—Twitter user @tspratt19

The circumstances have changed somewhat since this question landed in my inbox, with Heinola suiting up during the past three games — and coming off his best performance to date in Saturday’s win against the Blues. But back to the original question, the Jets' long-term plan is to have Heinola in the lineup and most likely compete for minutes on the top pairing eventually, thanks to his vision, puck-moving and skating ability. He’s going to need to continue working on his defensive zone play, but that’s normal for someone his age (20).

This is not a Sami Niku situation. Niku was 24 when he was placed on waivers by the Jets, Heinola is basically just getting started on his journey. You can understand some of the frustration regarding Heinola spending time on the taxi squad and missing out on some AHL opportunities, but he’s still seen plenty of game action at various levels during the past two seasons.

It’s understandable that fans want the timeline for full-time NHL work to be expedited and it’s up to Heinola to continue to make it hard for the coaching staff to keep him out of the lineup, even when/if the Jets return to full health. This is a player with a bright future. He took an important step toward showcasing his growth against the Blues and the more games he plays like that one, the more trust he’s going to earn from the Jets coaching staff.

Is Jakob Chychrun someone the Jets could use?
—Andy Johnson

The Arizona Coyotes blue-liner is someone that every team in the NHL could use, a minute-muncher with a nice blend of size and skill who won’t turn 24 until March 31. Although he’s been limited to 32 games this season, he put together the best year of his career in 2020-21, producing 18 goals and 41 points in 56 games while averaging more than 23 minutes per game.

Chychrun is used in all situations (including the power play) and he’s under contract for a team-friendly rate of $4.6 million for three more seasons after this one, which is why he’s generated plenty of interest on the trade market. The only way he would be a more perfect fit for the Jets was if he was a right-handed shot, given the surplus of lefties they already have. The asking price for Chychrun is high and it’s believed the Coyotes would prefer to move him to the Eastern Conference.

Could the Jets find a way to entice Arizona to change that perception by making the best offer? Only Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong knows the answer to that question.

What's going on with Evgeni Svechnikov? How did he go from being the golden boy to getting healthy scratched? Are the Jets just being cautious with his history of injuries, is he a casualty of roster management, or has he not done enough to impress the new coach?
—Cole Grove

It’s been an unexpected turn of events for Svechnikov, who got off to a strong start with his new team and showed well when used on a line with Dubois and Connor. His production has been somewhat limited when playing on the third and fourth lines, though his underlying numbers remain strong.

This could simply be a bump in the road for Svechnikov, who has already set career highs for games played (34) and points (10) and equalled his goal production (three) from last season. Lately he’s been passed on the depth chart by AHL call-up Austin Poganski and, since recovering from a knee injury he suffered on Dec. 17 against the Washington Capitals, Svechnkov has a goal and an assist in just six games.

For a team searching for some additional secondary scoring, the Detroit Red Wings 2015 first-rounder is a guy who could provide that during the second half, as long as he gets back into a groove.

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