WINNIPEG - The head coach and this reporter didn’t necessarily agree on the terminology, but that was beside the point.
When the No. 1 goalie and the backbone of the Winnipeg Jets had his night end early for the first time this season after giving up four goals on 19 shots through 14:25 of the second period, it caught my attention and seemed like a prototypical mercy pull.
By the time Hellebuyck skated down the tunnel and was replaced by Laurent Brossoit, it was apparent things weren’t going smoothly in what would end up being a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens.
Hellebuyck, who has given up three goals or more in seven of his past eight starts, wasn’t sharp, but he had plenty of company in that regard.
With a three-game showdown upcoming against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it seemed like a logical time to get Hellebuyck a bit of a breather and for Brossoit to get some additional work before his next start.
“That wasn’t a mercy pull,” said Maurice. “That was enough. It wasn’t like a 40-shot barrage through two periods. He was as good as our team, it was the way it was going. We’ve got lots of hockey here, spread it out over the two goalies, that’s all.”
The suggestion wasn’t that Hellebuyck was overworked or under siege, it was merely my impression that pulling the No. 1 guy would allow him the opportunity to begin the process of resetting a little bit earlier than normal.
“Definitely ask Paul (Maurice) if you want to know the details about it. For me, I’m going to take the rest and I’m going to make sure I’m not mentally hard on myself,” said Hellebuyck. “We have a lot of hockey. There is a lot of hockey to be played just this month. I have to be good and I have to be good every day. I can’t let this weigh on me.”
If there’s one thing Hellebuyck has made a habit of, it’s parking rough outings. He also recognizes the importance of this upcoming series and you can be sure he knows exactly what happened to the Edmonton Oilers during their recent three-game set against the Maple Leafs.
Since blowout losses have been so rare this season, Maurice was asked if enduring one could threaten to have a deeper cost attached to it.
“So those are the things that you’re always mindful of when you’re dealing with a tough loss,” said Maurice, whose club is 6-0-1 after suffering a loss so far this season. “I don’t find this to be a casual group. It’s a hard-working group and we’ve had a good start. We had a tough night in here straight across the board and we’ll leave it.”
You can expect the Jets will be laser-focused when they get to play the Maple Leafs for just the second of 10 times this season on Tuesday.
However, those same Maple Leafs will be looking to respond to consecutive losses to the Vancouver Canucks that came on the heels of waxing the Oilers 13-1 during a three-game series sweep.
Can the Jets avoid losing consecutive games in regulation after laying an unexpected egg?
“Well, you realize it’s one game. We’ll take the bulk of the work over one outlier, (Saturday) being that outlier,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. “The greatest thing about our team this year is the maturity level we’ve had since Day 1 of training camp. We’re going to use that again, build each other back up these next few days before we play a really good Toronto team.”
On to your questions:
If the Jets did get Mattias Ekholm, what do you think expansion looks like? You don’t want a rental, so Ekholm is protected, Dylan DeMelo is gone if exposed, you’d maybe think Neal Pionk’s rights, but do the Jets consider exposing Josh Morrissey thinking his contract is undesirable after two down years? Cody Magnusson
Who will the Jets leave exposed in the expansion draft? Bob @rivercitybum
Let’s go for the combo platter here, with the caveat that the outer edges of the Jets' protected list seem to look different every month and quite possibly could change multiple times before the Seattle Kraken actually make their selection.
There are a lot of moving parts and if the Jets were to add a D-man like Ekholm, which is a subject I tackled here, there would be some additional complications and challenges - but those would probably be worth it when you consider what type of player the Jets would be getting.
Dylan DeMelo would certainly have plenty of appeal if he were exposed, as Cody suggests. Neal Pionk, who is a pending restricted free agent due a substantial raise, is going to be protected. There’s no doubt about that.
Josh Morrissey has endured some challenges this season, but it’s far too early to suggest this current one isn’t salvageable. It had been a revolving door of partners for Morrissey in the early stages of the campaign and it would be a surprise if there doesn’t come a time when he’s reunited with DeMelo, which is a move with the potential to help both players.
My expectation would be that Morrissey, Pionk and Ekholm (if acquired) would be protected and if the Jets opted for a rental player or use internal options instead for the stretch run, DeMelo takes that third spot on the blue line.
Hellebuyck will be the goalie protected, which leaves the seven forward spots left to fill.
Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers are the locks, while Andrew Copp and Mason Appleton would likely fill out the forward group as of today.
But are the Jets willing to roll the dice on pending unrestricted free agent Adam Lowry?
It’s a scenario that’s tough to imagine, given how much Lowry is valued by the Jets’ organization. The bigger issue for the Jets is that if Lowry gets to the open market — even in a flat-cap off-season — there will be competition for his services and the price tag is only likely to go up.
A far less surprising outcome would be a contract extension, though it would mean Lowry passes on his first shot at becoming an unrestricted free agent. At this stage, it’s impossible to know if a side deal will need to be worked out between the Jets and Kraken — much like the one that came to fruition between Winnipeg and Vegas.
So, to get back to the original questions, Lowry is unprotected as of today but if a deal can be reached before he becomes a UFA, the checking-line centre immediately fills out the sixth forward spot.
Paul Stastny, obviously the results on the wing so far are great, but others have shown they can produce in that spot... if he isn't going to play third-line centre, do you think Kevin Cheveldayoff entertains moving him for a D while his stock is high? Preston Lennox @SalFontinal
No, Cheveldayoff will not be entertaining a deal involving Stastny, nor should he.
Under the current construction of the roster, Stastny is most likely to spend the bulk of his time on the wing and he’s adapted well to that scenario.
The other part of the equation is that Lowry is not going to be bumped to the fourth line. Often that unit with Copp and Appleton play against the opposition’s best or most skilled players.
Stastny’s value to the Jets stretches well beyond his point totals or even his on-ice contributions. He’s a quiet leader and a guy whose ability to connect with players throughout the roster only bolsters his status.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Stastny signed a one-year deal to remain with the Jets during the off-season, not a Joe Thornton-like league minimum contract but one at a reduced rate.
How much longer can the Jets hold Jansen Harkins out? They're destroying his drive by shattering his dream to play in the NHL one day. He could be starring in this lineup. Too many good players to go around right now. @Coachy511
With 17 games in 31 days during the month of March and two more sets of back-to-backs on the horizon, the expectation would be that Harkins is going to return to the lineup sooner than later.
There’s no doubt being a healthy scratch would be a disappointment or be causing frustration for someone in Harkins’ position. To suggest a bump in the road like this would destroy his drive or shatter his dream is inaccurate.
Harkins leapfrogged more people than anyone in the organization last season because of that drive and determination, quickly moving from fringe prospect to a full-time roster player.
The final step in the process of locking down a regular spot in the lineup is taking a bit longer than he had hoped, no argument here.
His biggest issue right now is that Maurice is most comfortable using him on the wing (instead of centre), where Mathieu Perreault is playing extremely well and veteran Trevor Lewis has been a key member of the penalty kill while holding down the other spot on the fourth line.
Suffering a lower-body injury in training camp after an impressive showing in the first scrimmage was a setback — and he sustained another ailment that kept him out of action after the season started.
Harkins is back to full health and while he isn't ready for a starring role yet, he projects to be a guy who could blossom into a double-digit goal scorer and be an effective two-way player. But let’s do our best to keep this in proper perspective - Harkins is an NHLer already and his best days are ahead of him, even with this recent turn of events.
No more softballs, what does Paul Maurice see in Nathan Beaulieu that no one else sees? Bobby S @rdsurgeyooper
Beaulieu is valued by Maurice for his size, physical play, toughness, contribution to the penalty kill and intangibles, which include his willingness to stand up for his teammates and to sacrifice his body.
Earlier this season, Beaulieu was miscast in a top-pairing role with Morrissey when he’s better suited to a spot on the third pairing with either DeMelo or Poolman (with whom he had a steady showing during the qualifying round series with the Calgary Flames) and playing more sheltered minutes.
Do the Jets (or any team, for that matter) put much thought into peaking for the playoffs? Or is it always just win as much as you can when you can? It's Always Sunny @SaintJaimie
The goal of almost every NHL team - except for those actively involved in a rebuild - is to peak in the playoffs.
The Jets certainly don’t want to peak in March, but they’ll need to be sharp in order to survive the gruelling stretch of 17 games over 31 days. It’s going to be the most taxing portion of the schedule and it could either solidify their standing in the North Division or leave them in a chase position going into the final five weeks of the NHL season.
Given the parity around the league, there are very few free spots on the bingo card, especially this season where there is only inter-divisional play. Winning as much as a team possibly can remains a top priority throughout the bulk of the season, though accomplishing that goal is often easier said than done.
What is your expectation of how and when Declan Chisholm will fare in the NHL? And how high do you think his ceiling is? Fabian @veryhumdrum
Chisholm, chosen in the fifth round (150th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft, is one of the more intriguing defence prospects in the Jets’ system.
There’s plenty of competition among those left-handed shooting blueliners, but not many of them skate with the same fluidity as Chisholm.
He’s an exceptional skater and is adapting well to the professional game, collecting two goals and four points in his first 12 AHL games. The offensive element from junior — where he racked up 69 points in 59 games as a 19-year-old with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League before the season was paused — has carried over.
Moose head coach Pascal Vincent has definitely noticed some improvements in Chisholm’s defensive game after getting to know him during previous Jets development camps and training camps. As far as the ceiling goes, it’s too early to tell if Chisholm is going to be able to run a power-play unit at the NHL level or how many points he may be able to produce.
But with his wheels and puck-moving ability, Chisholm could challenge for a roster spot (or at least put himself in a recall position) by his third pro season (2023-24).
What he does with the benefit of some seasoning is going to be interesting to watch.