DENVER — #TrotzWatch appears to be reaching critical mass, the longtime captain suddenly appeared on a prominent trade board and the top priority restricted free agent isn’t yet ready commit to a long-term contract.
Other than that, how is your week going Kevin Cheveldayoff?
Everyone knew that this was going to be a critical off-season for the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, given the inability for the organization to meet lofty expectations by failing to earn an invitation to the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The search to find Paul Maurice’s replacement is ongoing and interestingly enough, the former head coach of the Jets found himself a new job with the Florida Panthers earlier this week — energized and ready to roll six months after submitting his resignation on Dec. 17.
Jets fans have been waiting on pins and needles to see whether or not Dauphin product Barry Trotz is going to accept an offer to become the bench boss.
A source confirmed the latest meeting with Trotz and Cheveldayoff took place earlier this week and now it’s up to Trotz to decide if he’s going to accept the job, which would involve a succession plan to eventually move upstairs into a management role.
Trotz was the Jets’ top target since he was fired unexpectedly by the New York Islanders and the process has been a methodical one, which makes sense since the man who sits third in the NHL in all-time victories wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue behind the bench or transition into his next job.
There’s little doubt Trotz has the type of sharp hockey mind to make the transition to management, but coaching is in his blood and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t want to give it one more go-around.
With the 2022 NHL Draft around the corner and free agency set to open on July 13, the Jets would like to have their new coach in place by early next month to help set the tone for a series of decisions that are looming.
No matter who is behind the bench, there seems to be a legitimate chance that right-winger Blake Wheeler finds a new home for next season.
Frank Seravalli of Daily Face-off had Wheeler at No. 3 on his trade board, which was an interesting development.
Players like Wheeler don’t magically end up in the rumour mill unless either the team or his representation want to get the signal out there to generate buzz and possibly raise the value.
Of course, being on a trade board and actually making a trade of this magnitude aren’t mutually exclusive, but colleague Elliotte Friedman believes the situation has reached a point where a change of scenery would benefit Wheeler.
For this, trading 36-year-old Wheeler could be somewhat complicated by his contract situation, which includes two more seasons and an average annual value of $8.25 million.
Wheeler remains a productive player and he’s been a durable guy throughout his career, which includes more than 1,000 NHL games.
Wheeler’s full-movement clause in his current deal shifts to a partial no-movement deal on July 1, where he submits a list of five teams he would accept a trade to.
Is there a contending team that’s willing to absorb those final two seasons of Wheeler’s contract or is Cheveldayoff going to need to use some creativity to find a fit?
Would a sweetener need to be included, an additional player or prospect that would make it worthwhile for a team that’s looking to reach the salary cap floor?
Would a third team need to get involved or might the Jets consider retaining up to 50 per cent of the contract?
A buyout is another option that the Jets could consider, but history tells us that the organization has only used that scenario once, back in 2017 when the final season of Mark Stuart’s contract was taken off the books.
Might Wheeler be willing to accept a deal to the Arizona Coyotes, who are one of those teams that don’t have many players signed for 2022-23 and could fit in the cap hit (especially since the actual salary is only $6.5 million next season and jumps back up to $8.25 million in the final season after making $10 million last season)?
The thought of Wheeler on a Coyotes team that is still early in the rebuilding process seems strange, but what if he’s interested in reuniting with longtime line-mate and former Jets captain Andrew Ladd?
The additional stress of being the captain of the Jets has seemed to take an emotional toll on Wheeler during the past two-plus seasons.
Stepping out of the spotlight and into the background with the organization that originally chose him fifth overall in the 2004 draft would have a certain circle of life element to it.
For the Jets, they may have reached the point where they are ready to turn the leadership group over to a new voice — and perhaps a slightly different approach.
No matter what happens with Wheeler, he’s given his heart and soul to the organization, choosing Winnipeg as the place he wanted to raise his young family.
He’s also going to go down as one of the most productive players in franchise history and has spent a good chunk of his time here as the face of the franchise.
As for the future of centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, colleague Elliotte Friedman reported on Wednesday that his camp has informed the Jets that he plans to explore unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2024.
That news was greeted by Jets fans on social media with a mixture of caution and genuine concern.
Friedman also reported that the Jets still hope to convince Dubois to stick around after inking him to a shorter-term deal.
The Jets still have two years of control with Dubois, but there is a chance the Jets could decide to accelerate the process and look to trade him.
That doesn’t mean a trade is anything close to a sure thing, since the Jets have found themselves in a similar situation in recent years with defenceman Jacob Trouba and Patrik Laine — who was the key piece sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets to acquire Dubois in the first place.
With Trouba, after the Jets made their run to the Western Conference final in 2018, the organization chose to keep the defenceman for one more playoff push before moving him to the New York Rangers during the week of the 2019 NHL Draft.
With Laine, it appeared the Jets were on the verge of following the same playbook, but things accelerated when Dubois asked to be traded by the Blue Jackets.
It’s too early to tell which direction the Jets will go with Dubois, though the preferred route would be to sign him to a one-year deal or even reach a one-year agreement through arbitration, should things reach that stage.
However, that process could make things more tense and should be avoided if possible.
Might Dubois change his tune if Trotz accepts the Jets job and he flourishes under his watch?
That’s not out of the question, though there will always be debate about if a player’s trade value is higher with one season or two before said player can hit the open market for the first time of his NHL career.
Given how hard the Jets worked to come up with a one-two punch down the middle of Dubois and Mark Scheifele, coupled with the way Cheveldayoff has operated through his first 11 seasons as GM, about the only thing we know for sure is that he won’t be pressured into making a panic move.
Dubois was supposed to be a foundational piece for the Jets, a guy to be around and a potential future captain.
He embraced a leadership role and was often one of the players expressing disappointment in how last season was going, his investment level obvious with both his words and his play on the ice.
On a team with plenty of scorers, Dubois also provides a physical element, and he’s the type of guy who brings his teammates into the battle with him.
Dubois recently competed for Team Canada at the IIHF World Men’s Hockey Championship, playing a key role in a silver-medal winning performance and thriving on a line with Dylan Cozens and Drake Batherson.
Rather than Jets fans wondering how the Jets might be able to acquire one of those players in a deal, Thursday’s news likely has fans of the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators wondering aloud what it might take to trade for Dubois.
The return in any potential deal for Dubois would need to be significant and make sense in both the short and longer term, since the Jets are not about to slide into rebuilding mode themselves.
The belief in the organization was that last season was the exception and not a sign of things to come, that the reloading process involves augmenting the core, not dismantling it.
Some change is coming for the Jets, but a few things need to fall into place before things begin to come into clearer focus and we find out how significant the adjustments are going to be.