Lowry anchors the third line and won’t be available for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks or Tuesday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights, further complicating the Jets attempts at making a playoff push and perhaps making the decision about what to do before Monday’s deadline more difficult for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff than it already was.
Going into Sunday’s action, the Jets are six points behind the Golden Knights (though the Jets hold two games in hand) and three points behind the Dallas Stars for fifth place in the Central Division standings (the Stars hold two games in hand on the Jets).
While it’s impossible to ignore the speculation swirling around the future of pending unrestricted free agents Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny, the Jets are doing their best to try to block out the noise.
“I mean, at the end of the day, we don’t make any of the decisions. We know we’re in a playoff race where we’re going to have to win 15 of the last 20 games of the season,” Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois told reporters in Chicago on Sunday. “I know that it can be a stressful time of the year, where it’s not the easiest to just concentrate on playing but that’s what we have to do and what we have to concentrate on. Everything else is just out of our hands really.”
It may be out of the Jets players' hands, but the big decisions are looming and they will have an impact on how the rest of this season - and potentially several more beyond this one - could play out.
Five teams are believed to be involved in the pursuit of Copp, a dependable and versatile two-way forward who has 13 goals and 32 points in 55 games this season.
The Colorado Avalanche are believed to be the front-runner to acquire Copp’s services but other teams in the mix include the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs.
As for Stastny, the 36-year old veteran would fit for a number of contending teams, including the Rangers.
Not only are Copp and Stastny contributing players, but they’re also well-respected, which would make a deal for either of them tough to swallow.
“That’s something that, again, is totally out of your control. You look at any given season, there are going to be players that are talked about at the deadline for whatever reason. They’re both super well-liked and respected guys,” Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey told reporters in Chicago. “Guys that are a big part of our team. It is what it is. There is really nothing you can do but handle what you can, handle your day, and support anyone that is being talked about in the media as well. That’s really all you can do.”
The expectation is that Copp and Stastny will be in the lineup tonight against the Blackhawks, but that could change with one phone call if the Jets believed a deal was close or if they wanted to protect their assets.
Lowry has done an excellent job of providing secondary scoring for the Jets of late after a tough start to the season.
With a goal in Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Bruins, Lowry hit double digits in goals for the fifth time in seven NHL seasons. He’s contributed six goals and seven points during the past 11 games.
The loss of Lowry, coupled with Jets forward Kristian Vesalainen being assigned to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League on Saturday, opens the door for Jeff Malott to make his NHL debut after he was recalled from the minors.
Malott, 25, has 18 goals and 28 points in 46 games with the Moose this season and was signed to a two-way deal by the Jets last May following a strong campaign as a rookie pro.
“Looking for him to play his game, just to be himself,” Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry told reporters in Chicago. “Go out there and…he's a good hockey player, and he's scored at the American League level. Just go out and play his game, go up and down the lane and get to the net and make good decisions with the puck.”
As for Vesalainen, he’s gone 33 games without a goal and been limited to two goals and three points in 53 games this season.
Over the course of the season, Vesalainen’s confidence has been shaken as his ice and role was reduced.
“To get him playing. To get them back to the level that we believe he's capable of playing at,” said Lowry, asked to expound on the decision. “It’s hard for a young guy to develop when you're playing four minutes a night. Get him back comfortable handling the puck again, get him back playing, skating, getting inside, and getting back to the player that he is capable of being.”
Connor Hellebuyck is expected to make his 53rd start of the season tonight against the Blackhawks, while Winnipegger Adam Brooks returns to the lineup after sitting out Friday’s game against the Bruins.