The Winnipeg Jets haven't seen the ice since being swept out of the NHL Playoffs at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks way back on April 22. And while just making the playoffs could be considered a huge success for the franchise, the unfortunate fact remains that there is an incredibly low chance that the group that brought playoff hockey back to the River City will all return.
In fact, major turnover for this squad is likely expected. There are eleven (!!!) players from the group that either played or were healthy scratches for that final playoff game, and eight (!!!) of them are unrestricted. Nearly half of the roster that took on the Ducks just a few months ago could conceivably be gone.
Little news has come out of the True North offices of late, with only Chase De Leo getting inked to his Entry Level Contract and T.J. Galiardi reportedly signing with Malmo in the SEL getting any ink. With the standard offseason radio silence surrounding the Jets and next to no mention of them ever by NHL Insiders around the league, we're all left to look at where things currently stand and where Chevy and co. could be looking as the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and Free Agent Frenzy approach.
So lets do that.
Before we get started, a giant stick-tap to CapFriendly.com for proving to be a very capable replacement to CapGeek, and from which I took the following screen-caps.
The Jets have as many free agents up front as they do skaters under contract, which is pretty incredible when you think about it. And it would have been even more had the aforementioned Galiardi not already signed overseas. And when you plug the 7 skaters currently under contract into a projected lineup below, you can see all of the holes that need to be filled.
|Andrew Ladd||Bryan Little||?|
|?||Mark Scheifele||Blake Wheeler|
|Mathieu Perreault||Adam Lowry||?|
|Anthony Peluso (RFA)||?||Chris Thorburn|
While it is no certainty that any of the UFA's walk, as Chevy and the Jets hold their exclusive negotiating rights until the end of this month, it's also not hard to believe that they would choose to wait the short period of time and be able to speak to the other 29 teams. Especially since this summers crop of free agents is considered a weak one, and guys like Michael Frolik and Drew Stafford are likely considered to be two of the bigger ones. They're going to get paid. Will it be in Winnipeg?
Which of the 7 UFA's listed above will return? Should return? And what to do with Anthony Peluso, the lone RFA listed? Will Jim Slater need to employ his "Take a Jet to Work" skills while looking for a new job? Does the 'enigmatic' Alexander Burmistrov return to the now Noel-free Jets in a top-9 capacity?
Unlike the situation up front, the Jets are nearly set on the blue-line already with seven skaters already under contract and two young players in Ben Chiarot and Paul Postma as restricted free agents. Adam Pardy is the only unrestricted free agent on the blueline, and I have to wonder if there is any more room at the inn for him without changes being made.
However, it should also be noted that Grant Clitsome is a major question mark due to his pair of back surgeries over the past few years, so it's very possible that he's LTIR bound this fall.
|Toby Enstrom||Tyler Myers|
|Ben Chiarot (RFA)||Dustin Byfuglien|
|Mark Stuart||Jacob Trouba|
|Jay Harrison||Paul Postma (RFA)|
|Grant Clitsome (LTIR)|
For a team that some have suggested to struggle defensively and leave their goaltenders hanging out to dry, the defense will very likely look exactly the same as it did last year. The only way to change that now would be to move out and replace some bodies, like they did with Myers being brought in to replace Zach Bogosian. But unless a move is made, the group is pretty much set already.
Should Adam Pardy be brought back for organizational depth and a veteran presence with the Moose? Can one of Chiarot or Stuart continue to play in the top-4? Will Paul Postma ever get a chance to play, or will be continue to be buried in the RHD depth chart?
Not sure what needs to be said here. Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson are both under contract for this season, and while Connor Hellebuyck is beginning to put some pressure on them from below, it's pretty much certain that we'll see the same tandem as last year.
Should Ondrej be the starter? Hutch? Is a platoon situation the ideal situation again? Should Peter Budaj be retained to backup Helly on the farm? And speaking of Helly, should he get his chance sooner than later?
Is the above list the newest depth chart for the Manitoba Moose 2.0? Or will the Jets be raiding their now somewhat stocked cupboards and claiming some of these kids for the big club? Hard to say. But it does seem like Andrew Copp will be given the opportunity to take over the 4th-line centre position from Jim Slater, and Nikolaj Ehlers and Nic Petan could certainly be given a chance to step into a forward slot.
Who gets the push from this group of kids? Does Josh Morrissey push somebody out of the crowded blueline? Will Joel Armia show that he wasn't just a throw-in in the Evander Kane deal?
Finally, the list of free agents on the farm and elsewhere. Do any of these guys join the Moose in Winnipeg, or will they be cut free form the organization? Are there any names here that would warrant another look at the AHL or ECHL level?
So there you have it. The current state of the Winnipeg Jets heading into the draft and free agency. With word coming out that the Jets and Drew Stafford are talking contract (excuse me while I go bang my head against the wall), there is a chance that some of the question marks begin to be filled in short order.
Regardless, with so many spots to fill, so few quality free agents available this summer, and very little reports of the Jets being interested in retaining anybody other than Stafford (so far), it sure looks like the Jets will need to rely on youth to plug some holes. It's not hard to envision seeing a bit of a step back this year if that's the case though, as growing pains from the young kids are to be expected. Can a team that snuck in to the playoffs as an 8-seed afford that step back, though?
Add in to the equation that both Ladd and Buff are UFA's in just over one calendar year, and still have yet to win a playoff hockey game since hoisting the cup in 2009 with Chicago, will they be thrilled to wait even longer for youth to step in? Or will Chevy need to get creative with his 17th and 25th picks in Florida in a few weeks to bring in some help for the here and now?
So what say you, armchair GM's of Jets Nation? What would your Jets roster look like this fall if you had your choice? Let us know in the comments section below!