As free agency nears, it's again time to examine the Winnipeg Jets' free agent options. With little in the way of quality outside of the tip-six forward group, and the team's insistence on using one of their best defenceman at forward, the team is forced to give big minutes to lower-quality players. And then we have Ondrej Pavelec. There's loads of room for improvement in the River City. Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has yet to make a major mark on the franchise and has so far been unwilling to add any major talent in the summer frenzy, however this could be the year. Today we'll examine some UFA options for the Winnipeg Jets.
With Ondrej Pavelec in net, the Jets are known to have poor goaltending. The popular opinion on how to fix this is to use one of the Jets' compliance buyouts on the 26-year old Czech, and promote Michael Hutchinson to the NHL club. It doesn't sound like that is going to happen, but if it does here, are some names the Jets should consider as replacements.
No.31, Anaheim Ducks
Among the options on this list, I think Hiller is the best option hands down. Hiller was a workhorse goaltender for the Ducks, playing 50 games, and he had a 29-13-7 record, with a 0.911 save %. Those are some good, but not great, numbers. Turns out adding in Viktor Fasth was just the thing to get Hiller back into a groove. He backstopped the Ducks to the Western Conference Regular Season title, and then he's dumped. The Ducks are going with their dynamic duo of rookie netminders next season, so Hiller's ripe for the taking.
No.30, New Jersey Devils
Brodeur, at age 42, is on the way out in the NHL, having gotten a record of 19-14-6 in 39 games with a 0.901 Save %. That doesn't mean he wouldn't be an improvement for the Jets. That being said, he wouldn't have full no.1 duties in Winnipeg, rather forming a tandem with whoever else the Jets have between the pipes. He would also mentor the other goalie, assuming said other goalie is a prospect.
No.?, Montreal Canadiens
2013/14 was just about as low as one can get for Dubnyk. He lost a large number of games, won relatively few, was shipped out and made a backup goaltender, and then was demoted after being acquired for the king's ransom known as "future considerations". With an 11-18-3 record and a 0.891 Save %, he doesn't project as a major upgrade. Instead, he'd cheaply fill a roster spot.
No.30, Boston Bruins
Johnson is a successor of sorts to Anton Khudobin. He spent the year as a backup behind Boston's Tuukka Rask, played a bunch for a backup, and posted really solid stats, putting him on the free agency radar. Johnson's 17-4-3 record and 0.925 Save % in 27 games is good, but he'd probably be a backup on a good team, or form a tandem with another goalie on a team like Winnipeg.
No.30, Minnesota Wild
Flashback to spring 2011, as the Phoenix Coyotes are still the team everyone is expecting to relocate to Winnipeg. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, fresh off his second straight season guiding the Coyotes to the postseason, spouts off about how much he doesn't want to go to Winnipeg. So cold and boring he might as well return to Russia he says. Flash forward to 2013/14, and Bryz, having been bought out of seven high-paying years in Philadelphia after two awful years, signs with Edmonton, which is like Winnipeg but worse, and gets traded to Minnesota which is like Winnipeg but with a clearer goaltending situation. After a 0.909 Save % and a 12-9-8 record in 32, he could find himself manning the crease in Winnipeg.
No.35, Winnipeg Jets
Of course, I can't forget Monty. Montoya had good numbers for a backup, 13-8-3 in 27 games, as well as 0.920 Save %. Now, nobody's confusing him with Roy or anything, but if the Jets can find a decent netminder in free agency, then they can use him and Montoya in a tandem.
No.22, New York Islanders
With 36 points (12G, 24A) in 75 games for the Sharks this past season, my eyes widened when I discovered that the Sharks were cutting him loose. He was traded to the Islanders, and will have a lot of better teams looking into him. The fact that there are many better teams for which Boyle would be a fit is a problem for the Jets, who aren't contenders or league-wide media darlings. Boyle, despite his lack of size, is good at keeping the puck, and as far as defencemen go, can also score goals. He'd improve the Top-4.
No.2, Pittsburgh Penguins
Obligatory mention goes to the year's big free agent prize. Niskanen seemed to have had a breakout season for Pittsburgh, getting 46 points (10G, 36A) in 81 games and being one of Pittsburgh's best possession/shut-down players. As anyone will tell you however, Niskanen, 27, has had nothing approaching this kind of successful season, and achieved it when Pittsburgh's usual top point-getting defenceman, Kris Letang, missed a lot of time to injury, while still getting the support of Pittsburgh's talented array of Top-6 forwards. He would be an upgrade to any team's blueline, especially Winnipeg's, but not to the same extent as his 46 points would suggest.
No.41, Boston Bruins
Meszaros can be a quality defenceman when he's healthy, though constistency has been an issue for Meszaros. He's had some good possession seasons, and isn't that bad as a point producer. It is worth noting that among Boston's minus-possession players with at least 50 games played, Meszaros was the closest to positive, and scored 1.5 points per 60. His reputation has taken a beating in recent years, so maybe he'll be a cheap add if the Jets go for him.
No.6, New York Rangers
Stralman is an intriguing player. He's shown himself to be an excellent puck mover, holding his own on a pairing with Marc Staal, but is more of a defensive defenceman. While he got 34 points for the Blue Jackets in 2009/10, he hasn't gotten to 20 since then. This past season, he scored only 13 points (1G, 12A) in 81 games, and was one of the Rangers' top possession players. Stralman will be in demand in free agency, but if he doesn't stay with the Rangers, and is unspectacular stat line makes other teams shy away, then maybe the Jets will get a shot at signing him.
No.6, Florida Panthers
Whitney did not have a good season. He played only seven games, was a healthy scratch for a bit before being sent to the minors, and made basically zero impact. I only expect the Jets to consider him because he'd come cheap. Of course, he could simply retire because of recurring injuries.
No.15, Toronto Maple Leafs
Ranger could be a value signing for the Jets. He was a negative possession player on a weak possession team, but it's worth noting that his weren't the worst numbers on the team. As he's eased his way back into the NHL from a bit of an absence, his offensive contribution has been muted. I bet he'd be a bit of a Grant Clitsome type of player, one who can move the puck decently, but won't score a lot, hit a lot, or play big minutes.
No.6, Tampa Bay Lightning
The oft-injured 39 year old Salo is a free agent again. It is entirely possible that Salo decides to retire, but he has some qualities that the Jets likely find appealing. He has size, defensive ability, and a powerful slap shot. He's been in decline for some time, so the Jets may decide to stay away. It's worth mentioning that he had good possession.
Dany Heatley (L)
No.15, Minnesota Wild
Heatley was once a top goal scorer. At least 30 goals in several seasons with Ottawa and San Jose made him an attractive option when Minnesota went out to acquire him. He went down from 53 points in his first year with the Wild to 28 in his third. His possession was also weak. I don't expect Heatley will be getting a big pay day this summer. It would be kind of frustrating to see the Jets acquire Heatley. Heatley was originally drafted second overall in 2000 by the Jets, back when they were the Atlanta Thrashers. He left before really cementing himself as an elite scorer, and would be coming back well after he'd lost that reputation.
David Booth (R)
No.7, Vancouver Canucks
It's important to note that Booth isn't totally washed up in the NHL. He's still good at puck possession, even when he was being used in shut-down minutes. His compliance buyout came as a result of offence that never really came out in the Vancouver system. After a buyout, his price could be in the Jets' range, and it would be good to fill out a bottom line with power forward who has offensive instincts.
Mike Cammalleri (L)
No.13, Calgary Flames
Cammalleri is a bit of a high-profile free agent. He was rumoured to be set to go to Los Angeles at the trade deadline, but he stuck around. While he was a quality offensive player for the Flames, scoring 45 points (26G, 19A) in 63 games, as well as having a relCorsi percentage of 6.7%, fouth best among Flames regulars and one of only five plus-possession players. Cammalleri would provide a lot of what the Jets are looking for in a player: scoring, puck possession, and leadership. He'd also provide versatility. He was a left wing for much of his second stint in Calgary, but can also play centre fairly well. He could fill out either position depending on where the Jets end up needing him more. I'd love to see Cammalleri play for the Jets.
Derek Roy (C)
No.12, St. Louis Blues
There was a brief period when Roy was an elite centre. Despite his small stature, Roy was no worse than 0.84 PPG. This period of Roy's prime included a 1.04 PPG season in 2007/08, and 35 points in 35 games in an injury-shortened 2010/11. He's struggled to reach those same heights since then, and has become a bargain bottom-nine forward. He played easy minutes this past season, and had good possession. If he's signed to be a bottom-two centre, he could be a big steal of free agency.
Matt Moulson (L)
No.26, Minnesota Wild
Moulson doesn't provide much speed, physicality, or defensive ability, but he's a great goal scorer. I have to confess that when he left the Islanders and John Tavares' left wing, I was skeptical of his ability to keep up his offence. He acquitted himself well, which is why I don't get the why the Wild wouldn't want to keep him as they try to shore up their offence. He's not great in terms of possession, but then again, Moulson is the player you add just for goals. Goals happens to be something the Jets need. If Moulson is willing to stay in relatively the same area as he was just playing, then maybe Winnipeg can woo him over. Teams will be eagerly lining up to get him though.
No.84, Washington Capitals
He's someone I was hoping the Jets would have signed last summer. Despite his poor season in Toronto, and the subsequent buyout, he'd still fit as a slick middle six centre, and the Jets have needed depth at centre. I was disappointed when I read that Winnipeg was one of the few teams he specifically mentioned not being willing to go to, so I don't have high expectations for a Grabo signing. He's a good playmaker and possession player, likely an attractive pick to other teams, and unwilling to play here, so don't expect Grabovski to play for the Jets.
Ville Leino (L)
No.23, Buffalo Sabres
Leino, with only 15 assists and a Corsi rating firmly in the middle of a weak range, was a disappointment. In fact, the 6 points he scored in eight games in 2012/12 was the only good stretch Leino had with Buffalo. It's little wonder he was bought out. As with a number of players on this list, his presence speaks to a decreased value as a result of poor play, and thus a lower cost, and thus a higher chance that a team as gun-shy as the Jets pull the trigger.
Dustin Penner (L)
No.17, Washington Capitals
I like Penner as a free agent option. He's returned to being a player that puts in an effort in his game, and he's returned to being productive. He's being let go by the Capitals, so there should be teams much more interested in going after him. What makes him so attractive as potential target of the Jets is that he's a natural power winger. With Penner on the team, the Jets would have the size they need on the wing, which would allow them to put Dustin Byfuglien and his offence back on the blueline. He also had decent, even if negative, possession.
Jesse Winchester (L)
No.17, Florida Panthers
Winchester was signed after a season playing overseas. He actually did very well as a shut-down winger. He was a decent possession player, and even scored 18 points (9G, 9A). The Jets could benefit from having a plus-possession defensive winger on their fourth line. A number of teams could also benefit from having such a forward, so don't expect him to get signed.
Daniel Winnik (R)
No.34, Anaheim Ducks
It wasn't much of a surprise that the Ducks were releasing Saku Koivu to free agency. What was a shock was that they were further breaking up their shutdown line by releasing Winnik. His possession numbers weren't too great, but he's got good defensive skills for a fourth line. He also got 30 points (6G, 24A) in 76 games for the Ducks. He could have a number of teams trying to get him.
Marty Havlat (R)
No.9, San Jose Sharks
At this point, I feel the need to clarify that I don't see a player getting bought out and think "he'd be perfect for us!". I do, however, think Havlat could be a moderate-risk-high-reward player for the Jets if they were to sign him. He's likely to be bought out, as few teams seem eager to trade for him, so his cost could be pretty low. Maybe the $900K range. If his injuries persist, then he probably won't be too much of a financial hit, but he's only 33, so he's not way deep in decline. He could provide some decent offence.
HC Lev Praha (KHL)
Sekac put up a decent 28 points (11G, 17A) in 47 games for Prague's KHL team. He also impressed NHL scouts present at the World Championships. The skilled winger isn't under contract for next season and could be considering the NHL as his next destination. The Jets have a weak bottom-six, which would present Sekac with a better opportunity to break into the lineup.
No.26, Colorado Avalanche
Stastny had a decent rebound year with the Avalanche. Following 79 points in 2009/10, Stastny had several weak seasons under the Joe Sacco coaching regime. The introduction of Patrick Roy as head coach boosted the Avalanche offence. Playing on a line with captain Gabriel Landeskog, Stastny scored 60 points (25G, 35A) in 71 games. He represented the Americans at the Sochi Olympics, and was also a plus-possession player. He won't come cheap, but he's one of the best centres available.
Benoit Pouliot (L)
No.67, New York Rangers
Pouliot had a far better year in 2013/14 than was expected. The Minnesota Wild's first round selection in 2005 was cut loose during the 2009/10 campaign after three unsuccessful attempts at cracking the lineup. Since then, he's played with four teams in just about as many years. He didn't fit with Montreal, Boston, or Tampa Bay. It was a surprise that Pouliot took command of his third line role and posted career high of 36 points (15G, 21A). He also scored 10 points (5G, 5A) in their playoff run. His 10.77 CorsiOn rating was among the better ones for the Rangers this year. He did this all for a meagre $1.3M. In all, he could provide great value on the third line. Don't get your hopes up though. Pouliot drove his price up, and he may be out of the Jets' price range.
Kevin Hayes (L)
This is an interesting name I happened upon. Chicago drafted Hayes 24th overall in 2010. After three weak years with Boston College, Hayes was moved to wing and scored 27 goals and 62 points. Having finished his senior year, the Blackhawks are looking to sign Hayes, but they have only a month to do so. Winnipeg was frustratingly quiet when the undrafted collegiate stars became available near the end of the season, so perhaps the Jets should try to woo Hayes with the promise of a fast track to NHL action.Hayes was drafted as a centre, a position of weakness for the Blackhawks, he's had more success on the wings, a position of strength, which means Hayes would have an uphill battle to make the team come training camp.
Peter Mueller (C)
Kloten Flyers (Switzerland)
Mueller, after a strong 2007/08 rookie season with Phoenix, got worse and worse and worse. Offensive struggles and injuries plagued his career as he moved on to Colorado and Florida, and he signed for this past season in the Swiss League. After scoring 46 points (24G, 22A) in 49 games for Kloten, leading the Swiss League, Mueller is interested in re-signing in the NHL. There's risk here, but there could also be a high reward if the Jets get him.
Again, this isn't a list of players I think are on the Jets' radar, and definitely not a list I think have Winnipeg on theirs'. It's simply players I think the Jets could go after, either for low cost or potential impact, that would make the Jets more competitive next season.
Think of anyone else? Drop a comment and let me know!