WINNIPEG — Bold moves were made, the defence was overhauled and training camp is right around the corner.
With the NHL calendar getting closer to being back on track, we’re about to find out if improvements on paper translate into on-ice results for the Winnipeg Jets as they return to the Central Division in October.
It won’t be long until the battle for roster spots on the periphery is in full swing, but for the time being, the September mailbag was open and you had a number of questions on your minds.
Let’s try to provide some answers to those queries.
Editor’s note: Some questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Fred Abbot asks: Obviously the Jets want to extend Andrew Copp, but what do you think the Jets’ strategy is, and what should it be? Do you think there is a January extension “in the drawer”? Why would Copp accept that rather than wait until UFA? If they were to extend him, what does that say regarding re-signing Paul Stastny?
There’s little doubt the Jets would have liked to have Copp on a longer-term deal this past summer and going with a one-year pact that would allow the versatile forward to walk into unrestricted free agency isn’t optimal.
No, I don’t think there is an extension in the drawer that will be announced on July 1. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a guarantee Copp won’t return.
In terms of strategy, Copp is looking to build on a career-best season and is once again betting on himself. That’s worked out well for him during his career and it’s hard to imagine it not paying dividends for him once again next off-season.
As for the Jets, they value Copp and will make another effort to get him signed long-term, whether that’s after Jan. 1 or in the off-season.
When a player gets this close to choosing where he wants to sign, it wouldn’t be a surprise for Copp to test the open market and see if another team makes him an offer he can’t refuse.
Copp has invested a lot of sweat equity and would like to be part of another lengthy playoff run. He also knows that he’s earned the trust of the head coach, plays significant minutes and is an important part of the leadership group.
That counts for something, but ultimately the Jets are going to have to provide some security (in terms of years) and another raise from the $3.64 million he’s going to make this season in order to extend the relationship beyond this season.
With Paul Stastny on a one-year deal, it’s natural to wonder whether the Jets could use some of the money allotted to Stastny this season ($3.75 million) in order to provide that increased salary.
However, it’s important to remember Pierre-Luc Dubois is a pending restricted free agent and he’s likely going to get a bump in pay ($5 million AAV this season) on a long-term deal, provided he delivers after a tumultuous first season with the Jets.
Is it possible Copp could price himself out of the market with a 20-goal, 50-plus point season? Perhaps, but he’s a player the Jets have invested a lot in — and being in win-now mode, he’s a guy they would like to keep in the fold for the long haul.
Karl Redding asks: What are the bold predictions for the first full year of Pierre-Luc Dubois’ career as a Winnipeg Jet?
It’s safe to say things didn’t go nearly as smoothly as Dubois, the Jets or the Jets fan base had anticipated after the blockbuster trade was made.
While some folks quickly jumped off the bandwagon, it’s important to remember the circumstances Dubois dealt with last season.
Whether it was the breaking down of contract negotiations with the team that selected him third overall in the 2016 NHL Draft or his messy departure, that would have been difficult enough in and of itself.
Tack on a 14-day quarantine and a lower-body injury in his second game with the Jets, Dubois seemed to be skating an uphill battle.
That’s not to take him off the hook entirely, since there is absolutely no doubt he needs to elevate his level of play this season and looking at his first three seasons in the NHL, there is plenty of video evidence to sift through to show that Dubois can be a power forward and impact player when he’s playing his best.
This isn’t just about point totals, it’s about finding his comfort zone with regular linemates and doing the things Dubois does best.
He’s a powerful skater with a heavy shot and he can use his strength to win board battles when he’s fully engaged.
Provided he does those things, it’s easy to envision Dubois eclipsing 20 goals and producing 55-to-60 points.
@mb_jfb on Twitter asks: Does Dubois play mainly centre or left wing mainly this season? (I think the Jets’ chances of contention depend on him becoming a bona fide 2C)
The Jets view Dubois as the long-term solution at centre and he will be given every opportunity to fill that role.
Yes, he played all three positions last season and saw time on all four lines but that isn’t going to be the case this season.
Look for Dubois to be the centre playing behind Mark Scheifele, who will miss the season opener as he completes his four-game suspension.
As far as Dubois becoming a bona fide No. 2 centre, he was the No. 1 centre with the Blue Jackets, so the ultimate goal for the Jets is for him to essentially become a 1B centre.
The Jets have Paul Stastny and Andrew Copp that could slide into the second-line center job if necessary, but Dubois is the primary option here and a patient approach will be taken.
John Wehrle asks: How do you foresee the inevitable battle that will take place between Paul Maurice’s instinctual reaction to lean on veteran depth players (like Mathieu Perreault, Trevor Lewis, Nate Thompson this past year) versus the budget constraints and developmental imperative to rely on younger ELC players this year?
There’s little doubt that training camp line combinations are going to be under the microscope and that the exhibition games could be revealing when it comes to some of those aforementioned battles on the periphery of the roster.
First and foremost, the top-8 forward positions are pretty easy to identify — though there will be plenty of debate when it comes to what the line combos are and how the ice time is distributed.
Let’s just start with the premise that those top-8 players in terms of ice time are going to be Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Dubois, Stastny, Copp and Adam Lowry.
Probably the most intriguing battle going into training camp is for the third-line right-winger job and who attempts to replace Mason Appleton after he was chosen by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft.
Vesalainen could be viewed as the front-runner after turning some heads during the stretch run and based on some of the opportunities he received during the playoffs.
Jansen Harkins will be looking for a bounce-back campaign after being limited to a goal and two points in 26 games last season and will be in the mix as well.
If Maurice is looking for more of a veteran tilt with a more defensive outlook, Nash could be under consideration as well — though he could also be used as the fourth-line centre or on the wing to support David Gustafsson, who is ready for full-time work after being named Moose MVP last season.
Speaking of forward prospects, the August mailbag spent a significant number of words on Cole Perfetti and given his skill set and hockey intelligence, he could be under consideration as well — though he’ll need to steal the job from one of the other candidates.
Perhaps the most intriguing option in this right-wing battle is Evgeny Svechnikov, the 2016 first-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings.
Svechnikov is recovering from a shoulder issue and is currently on an AHL deal with the Manitoba Moose, but he’s accepted a pro tryout offer and is expected to eventually sign a two-way contract with the Jets.
Svechnikov was a high-scoring junior and he’s got more experience as a left-handed shooting right-winger than either Vesalainen or Harkins, so that’s something that could work in his favour.
As far as the veteran versus youth debate, the Jets are expected to be a contender this season and those choices are going to be based on performance.
There are some younger players with an opportunity to take a massive step forward this season and it’s up to them to force Maurice’s hand.
As far as the budget constraints and entry-level deals go, it’s a harsh reality for the Jets — who could easily need to roll with a roster of 22 (and maybe even 21) with regularity because of the salary-cap implications.
Darren Ross asks: Was there someone in particular inside the organization pushing for Evgeny Svechnikov? If healthy, will he be given every opportunity to crack the big club or is a start with the Manitoba Moose inevitable?
The Jets had Svechnikov on the radar dating back to the 2015 NHL Draft before Kyle Connor unexpectedly fell to them at 17th overall, and it’s not hard to envision there being folks on both the amateur and pro scouting side that believe the Russian winger has the potential to grow into a regular contributor.
Injuries have played a role in Svechnikov’s development and this is an opportunity for him to get a fresh start with a new organization.
Svechnikov had success playing on a line with Dubois with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but that’s not a driving force behind his arrival, as Svechnikov is more likely to challenge for third- or fourth-line work, at least out of the gate.
His health could go a long way toward determining where he starts this season, but this was a low-risk signing by the Jets with the potential to pay dividends at the NHL level.
Cory K asks: Are there any unsigned free agents left that the Jets might have interest in for the bottom six?
It’s that time of the year when teams around the NHL are looking at veteran options, either on close to league-minimum deals or on pro tryout offers.
The Jets aren’t short on options up front and there’s already significant competition for minutes at third-line right wing and for the entire fourth line.
One player that caught my attention is forward Tyler Bozak, most recently of the St. Louis Blues.
Bozak, 35, has 764 games of NHL experience and another 56 during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He helped the Blues capture Lord Stanley’s mug in 2019 and has the ability to play either centre or right wing.
Bozak is known for his vision, passing ability and has been an important contributor to the penalty kill during the course of his career.
The Jets don’t have a lot of right-handed shots up front and bringing in a high-character veteran with skill is never a bad thing.
However, Bozak is probably looking for a bit more than the Jets can offer him right now.
@SaintJaimie on Twitter asks: Is there a logjam on the Jets’ blue line?
Sam Ritter asks: Do you see the Jets adding more to their defence?
These two questions are vastly different, but the answers are related, so let’s deal with them together.
Obviously, the Jets’ defence corps has undergone massive changes since the 2019-20 season and with the arrival of Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon, there is veteran stability that will have a trickle-down effect on the entire group.
When you couple the additions with the organizational depth in terms of defence prospects, yes, it’s fair to say there’s a bit of a logjam as it pertains to the Jets’ back end.
But any coach or general manager will tell you they’d rather have too many defencemen to fill those spots than not enough.
When it comes to adding to the defence, that’s unlikely to happen for a few reasons — the Jets are already going to be tight to the cap and perhaps equally important, they’ve got internal candidates ready to battle for work and on call in case of injury.
Ankur @_Jack_notbox on Twitter asks: What are the starting D pairs?
There are plenty of permutations and combinations for Maurice and Charlie Huddy to test out, should they desire to have a look at the options.
Depending on the in-game situation, it’s not difficult to envision Josh Morrissey getting some more time together with Neal Pionk (especially when trailing), but initially look for the two to be on separate pairings.
Morrissey with Schmidt on the right side and Dillon paired with Pionk is my initial prediction, though it’s important to remember Dillon and Dylan DeMelo spent plenty of time on a pairing when they were teammates with the San Jose Sharks.
Of course, Morrissey and DeMelo had plenty of success together in the opening-round series against the Edmonton Oilers, so that’s always a fallback option Maurice has at his disposal.
However, the arrival of the two rearguards via trade likely pushes DeMelo onto the third pairing with Logan Stanley.
That’s my best guess for the opening night lineup, though D prospects Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg will do everything in their power to thrust themselves into the mix.