Jets Mailbag: Is Winnipeg closer to being a Cup contender or rebuilding?

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) warms up before taking on the Calgary Flames in NHL qualifying round game action in Edmonton, on Saturday August 1, 2020. (Jason Franson/CP)

WINNIPEG -- Those trade winds have quieted down, if only for a moment.

But judging by the number of deposits into my various forms of inboxes when the call for questions went out for Vol. 4 of the Winnipeg Jets mailbag, it’s clear that the future of Patrik Laine is very much on the mind of many fans.

That’s natural when the second overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft finds himself in the heart of trade rumours for several weeks on end.

The Stanley Cup has been awarded and it’s possible that games won’t be played again until at least January, and possibly February -- and when a team like the Jets has been out of action since the middle of August, it’s natural for a fan base to get restless.

My position on Laine hasn’t changed.

Unless the Jets are blown away by an offer in the coming weeks or months, the most likely scenario would see Laine report to training camp and play out the final year of his deal - which includes an AAV of $6.75 million (and a salary of $7.5 million).

It’s in the best interest of both parties for Laine to play well, since the player wants to boost his value on his next contract during an uncertain economic time, while the organization wants to see his trade value rise - should common ground not be found and a split eventually becomes inevitable.

Since the Jets have three more years of team control, the organization isn’t going to rush to move Laine unless another team makes it well worth their while.

This is an elite goal-scorer who has developed his game over the past four seasons and his best hockey is on the horizon. Those players are tough to find, let alone try to have to replace.

The Jets took care of two pieces of business this week by inking 2015 second-rounder Jansen Harkins to a two-year, one-way deal that carries an AAV of $725,000, and defenceman Sami Niku to a two-year, $1.45-million contract.

Harkins is no longer exempt from waivers, but earning a one-way deal is no small feat for someone who went from fringe prospect to NHL regular last season.

With Harkins and Niku now under contract, the Jets have one restricted free agent left to sign and forward Jack Roslovic doesn't have arbitration rights.

At a time when every penny counts, Roslovic's deal is expected to come in around $2 million (or slightly higher) on a two-year bridge deal.

On to your questions.

Do Laine, Roslovic and Niku get traded this off-season?
-- Rick Grimey, @ReaveSoko

My position on Laine is detailed above and has been discussed before here.

As for Roslovic and Niku, it’s tough to put odds on whether or not either or both of these guys are with the Jets or involved in a trade during the off-season.

Roslovic is coming off his most productive campaign as a pro -- even in a shortened season.

He’s seen time in the top-six and had some cameo appearances on the first power play unit, but projects to be on the third line right now - provided he remains in the fold.

Roslovic was chosen 25th overall in 2015 and there’s plenty of potential for him to take another step forward in terms of his offensive production, but one could make a case that might not be possible -- unless Laine is traded.

If that’s the case, Roslovic could see a promotion into the top-six -- depending on the return for Laine, of course.

Niku remains a bit of an enigma.

For all of the discussion about the revamped Jets’ defence corps and debate about whether it could use another addition, Niku’s skill set remains intriguing - and perhaps there is a scenario where he reclaims a job in the top-six?

That’s certainty a possibility at this stage of the proceedings.

Plus, it’s important to remember he was definitely in consideration for a job going into training camp 1.0 last September - before a car accident on the way to the rink was the first in a long line of unfortunate circumstances he endured, culminating with suffering a lower-body injury during a pre-game edition of two-touch soccer in Washington on Feb. 25.

However, the prospect of Roslovic and Niku being part of a package deal -- or two individual ones -- in an effort to bring in a D-man is on the table as well.

Not trying to be on the fence here, it’s just that the crystal ball is a bit cloudy right now and this could end up going in a variety of different ways.

What would have to be added to a potential trade involving Laine and Werenski so that both teams would say yes? Or is that even possible?
-- Advin Pagtakhan

When it comes to leaving the door slightly ajar on the Laine trade front, the team that continues to catch my attention is the Columbus Blue Jackets, especially after GM Jarmo Kekalainen cleared out some cap space and didn’t really make a big splash in free agency.

Of course, a good chunk of that money will go to a raise for Pierre-Luc Dubois but the Blue Jackets could use another finisher on the roster.

Laine certainly fits the bill on that front and a pairing with head coach John Tortorella could be fascinating.

While it would make sense for the Jets to try and acquire someone like Werenski, who has no trade protection and would provide cost certainty for two more seasons at a reasonable AAV of $5 million (at which point he would be an RFA with arbitration rights), the Blue Jackets are in no hurry to move a top D-man that averages nearly 24 minutes per game and is used in all situations.

Columbus wants to build their defence corps around Werenski and Seth Jones, who has two more years on his current deal.

This isn’t a scenario like the one that brought Jones to Columbus in the first place in the blockbuster with the Nashville Predators for Ryan Johansen.

Those Predators had a surplus on the back end and desperately needed a first-line centre.

That doesn’t rule out a trade entirely, but it would be a surprise if the Blue Jackets made Werenski available.

So that probably makes predicting other possible pieces that might lead to a deal moot, at least for the time being.

Is the team closer to contending or a rebuild?
-- Garret W, @gojetsgo_17

The Jets found themselves in the murky middle last season and thanks to a second straight early exit from the post-season, trying to determine the direction the organization is headed has been on the minds of many.

While the Chicago Blackhawks made their intentions known to season-ticket holders in a letter, don’t expect the Jets to follow suit.

Last season was a step backward, there’s no disputing that. Embracing a full-out or on-the-fly rebuild is not in the plans.

Injuries are a part of the game, but it’s impossible to ignore the impact of losing Mark Scheifele, Laine and Mason Appleton in Game 1 against the Calgary Flames.

That doesn’t change the fact the Jets were a bubble team for most of the season.

This group has a 34-year-old captain in Blake Wheeler and plenty of others in a talented core group that are under contract for at least four more seasons, so the Jets are definitely in win-now mode.

There are several players that must continue to take a step forward in their respective development curves to return to contender status.

But with Connor Hellebuyck providing Vezina-worthy or winning goaltending in two of the past three seasons, the Jets are closer to contending than rebuilding -- and getting Cole Perfetti at 10th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft helped expedite the process, whether he’s on the NHL roster this season or not.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been really quiet and I understand they need to shed $$. Is Chevy lurking in the weeds? Is there a deal to be had between Tampa and the Jets?
-- Joe, @Canmbhf

Lightning GM Julien BriseBois did an excellent job of adding to the roster, which helped the group put last season’s playoff disappointment behind them - the result being a Stanley Cup title.

A flat cap leaves BriseBois in a bit of a bind. With just under $3 million left under the flat cap of $81.5 million and three RFAs left to sign in D-men Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak and centre Anthony Cirelli.

That means moves need to be made and those are unlikely to include to any of those three unsigned players.

The prospect of an offer sheet to any of these players remains remote - and it’s even less likely the Jets will be the team proposing one.

Could a trade between the Jets and Lightning be possible?

Sure, but let’s go with improbable.

There are plenty of players on the Lightning roster that could improve the Jets, but it’s hard to see a fit right now - unless Tampa Bay has interest in Niku and/or Roslovic.

Wondering what your thoughts would be of the Jets possibly bringing back Chiarot in a trade before the season starts? Rumour has it that he may be the odd man out for the expansion draft.
-- @McCarpenter84

With all the signings by Montreal on left D is there a chance Chevy is looking at Chiarot. I think he would fill that physical presence and look really nice next to Pionk.
-- @Pete55508474

The Montreal Canadiens are having a fantastic off-season and have built on the momentum created by a solid showing during the recent Stanley Cup playoffs.

As it relates to the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, GM Marc Bergevin is going to be left with some interesting decisions, there’s little doubt about that.

On defence, if the Canadiens are going to protect three players -- Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are the locks.

To me, given how well he played on a pairing with Weber, Chiarot will occupy that third spot -- even though he will only have one more year left on his deal.

The Canadiens dealt for Manitoba product Joel Edmundson to add some bite to the back end after acquiring his rights from the Carolina Hurricanes, but it looks like he’ll be slotted in behind Chiarot on the depth chart. Brett Kulak is in that mix as well.

While the Jets would probably welcome Chiarot back with open arms and yes, he could be a good fit on a pairing with Neal Pionk, it doesn’t look like a return to the fold is a strong possibility.

My contention is that the Jets are leaving room for top prospects Dylan Samberg and Ville Heinola to show what they can do, while having veterans like Derek Forbort and Nathan Beaulieu as other options to pair with Pionk - depending on how training camp and the rest of the off-season unfolds.

In what ways would you like to see the Jets shake up the bottom-six forward group? Do you think they need to add some proven veteran grit and scoring?
--Scott Bell, @MrBellJHB

I really think we got to improve our bottom-six. What do you think? Our secondary scoring hasn’t been very good.
-- Dom Zappia @mimmo10

Shakeup isn’t a word that immediately comes to mind, but it’s safe to say some changes are coming to this group -- though most of it is organic and won’t be a result of a blockbuster deal.

Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp have made up two-thirds of a strong possession-driving line that can contribute secondary scoring for several seasons, though Lowry is coming off an injury-plagued season where offence was tougher to come by.

Should Roslovic stick around, he provides plenty of offence in a middle-six role, but Appleton looks like a player who could easily replace the offence Brandon Tanev produced (including his career-high 14 goals and 29 points he had in 2018-19) before he signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Do the Jets need more from their fourth line?

Absolutely.

Given the compressed nature of the upcoming schedule, the Jets need to find a fourth unit that can approach 10 minutes of ice time per game and that group must chip in some offence -- and do more than just tread water.

Mathieu Perreault is a guy who has been used with Lowry and Copp in the past and that could be the case once again, though he’s coming off a season that included a couple of injuries as well.

When healthy, he has proven to be an effective player -- though his days of approaching 20 goals or 40-plus points are likely in the rearview mirror.

With a contract of more than $4 million for one more season, Perreault is more of a luxury item at this point but the contract is going to be tough to move, so the Jets' best hope is that he enjoys a bounce-back or renaissance in 2021.

Thompson isn’t going to provide a lot of offence, but will provide some grit and some help on the penalty kill.

Harkins is an emerging player that can help with secondary scoring and play up and down the lineup, while David Gustafsson and Kristian Vesalainen are developing guys that can chip in some offence and play a responsible game.

When Gustafsson and Vesalainen join Harkins as a full-time player remains to be seen.

Assuming there will be a Canadian division next season, does that improve or hurt the Jets playoff chances?
-- Cam Platt, @cplatt87

This is a great question and will be explored further as things progress.

But in the short term -- and under the circumstances -- you can count me among the many folks who would be on board with the creation of an all Canadian Division for the 2020-21 season.

As for where the Jets would stack up against those opponents versus where they would stack up in the Central Division, it looks like a negligible difference to me.

Right now, the Jets are a bubble team -- a capable bubble team, but a bubble team nonetheless.

The Canadiens are my early favourite in the All Canadian Division, with a solid one-two punch in goal, an improved defence corps and a nice collection of forwards that includes plenty of depth down the middle.

There are more contenders than pretenders among the Canadian teams, but there are also plenty of questions that still need to be answered for almost all of them.

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