The Jets are off to a pretty good start to start the 2018-2019 NHL season. But while they are winning games, scoring is not coming easily to them. After losing Paul Stastny in free agency after acquiring him from the St Louis Blues during the trade deadline last season, , the Jets have had Bryan Little playing as the team’s second line centre.
Little has been decent on the second line, but there is definitely room for improvement. He has recorded 4 points in 12 games this season. Patrik Laine, who has been playing on the right wing on the second line has had a string of poor performances which resulted in him being sent to the 4th line against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nikolaj Ehlers has been playing left wing on the second line and has been increasing his production, but could contribute more. The second line has been decent, but in order to really solidify their offence they should strongly consider upgrading at centre. Little has not been good enough to lead the second line and the overall production of the line has suffered. While the Jets are likely to make the playoffs, upgrading the second line would make it possible for them to go further.
After losing their first round pick to acquire Paul Stastny last season, it is unlikely that they will want to trade another first round pick. However, they still have some assets that they can trade. They can consider trading a defensemen, like Tyler Myers or even potentially Jacob Trouba, which is not necessarily the best idea. This is only an option if it is clear that they will be unable to re-sign him and they feel confident that Tucker Poolman or Sami Niku can fill his spot.
There are multiple centres that would be a great fit for Winnipeg, but it is not clear if they are available for trade. Below are some centres that could be a trade option for the Jets and should be investigated by Jets management.
As reported by Nick Kypreos, Kevin Hayes has been attracting a lot of interest around the NHL lately. The 26-year-old centre would be an interesting option for the Jets to acquire. He is on a 1-year $5.125M contract with the New York Rangers and will probably seek a long term deal when he hits free agency. The Rangers are at the bottom of the standings and are currently in a rebuild. Trading a young skilled player like Hayes, who will likely be asking for a significant long-term contract this offseason, may make sense for the Rangers. They can acquire picks, prospects, or even a young defender that they can help focus their rebuild around, which may make it worth it to trade him.
Hayes is not off to a good start. He has recorded just 3 points in 10 games while averaging 18 minutes a night. He is a player that may benefit from a change in scenery and the Jets could be a great spot for him. Playing alongside Ehlers and Laine could be the perfect spot for him and might improve their second line immensely.
With the acquisition of John Tavares, Nazem Kadri is essentially the odd man out on the Toronto Maple Leafs. They already have two elite centres besides Kadri in Auston Matthews and Tavares. While Kadri adds to the Leafs elite centre-depth, they need help on defence. If the Leafs can acquire a top defender from the Jets in exchange for Kadri, it may not be all that bad. Kadri is only being paid $4.5M until 2022-2023 which is a great contract for someone with Kadri’s skill set. It would be hard for the Leafs to part with Kadri, but they might be willing to for a top-level defenceman. Matthews is currently out with an injury and Kadri has moved up in the lineup, but he will not be out forever. Once Matthews is back, Kadri will go right back down to the third line. In 11 games Kadri has 6 points which is decent especially for a third line centre.
On the Jets, Kadri would be able to have two high end wingers playing alongside him. He will be given the chance to play on arguably the best line he has played on in his whole career. He would be playing a lot more the 16 minutes a night and would be given every opportunity to succeed. The Jets currently do not have any young, high end centre prospects that look ready to challenge Kadri for a roster spot, and with majority of their cap space next season likely going towards paying Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba (if not traded to the Leafs In this Scenario), and multiple more depth players, it is unlikely that any big name free agent enters would be coming in to take the second line centre position away from Kadri.
The Edmonton Oilers have a surplus of centres. This has resulted in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being moved to the wing where he is finding success. The Winnipeg Jets have multiple defensemen that the Oilers would surely love to add to their roster. The wing is a weakness for the Oilers which is one reason why Nugent-Hopkins was moved there. He has not disappointed, as he has 12 points 10 games which is on pace for his highest offensive output of his career. Although it is unlikely that a trade involving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will occur, the Jets do have defence that they could trade in order to make this happen. The Jets might want to look ata deal involving Jacob Trouba as it looks like it is unlikely that he will re-sign beyond 2020. It may not be a one for one deal, but a deal involving Nugent-Hopkins and Trouba may be a decent deal which would help both teams.
The Jets are a strong team regardless on whether or not they add a new centre to play on the second line. Last season, the Jets played great even before the arrival of Stastny. Little had 43 points in 82 games and likely would have hit 50 if not for the Stastny trade. Laine scored 44 goals and 26 assists (70 points) and Ehlers scored 29 goals and recorded 31 assists (60 points) in 82 games each. So far this season, the Jets are showing that there is room for improvement on offence. They are 21st in the league in goals per game with 2.92. There are also players like Tyler Johnson and Phillip Danault, but, just like the other names on this list, they are unlikely to be traded by their teams.
Something needs to change on the second line and the Jets need to find a solution. Whether Brian Little can step up and start producing or they make a trade to find a solution, something needs to be done.