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The Busy Off-Season Ahead

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The winds of change turn their hungry eyes to Winnipeg.

NHL: Heritage Classic-Edmonton Oilers at Winnipeg Jets Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

The sting of defeat is fresh in our minds. The Winnipeg Jets bowed out of the playoffs in 5 games against the Vegas Golden Knights, largely due to the efforts of Marc-Andre Fleury. While the Jets had a wonderful season, one cannot help feeling that this playoff run was a missed opportunity. Winnipeg was likely icing one of the best line-ups it’ll ever produce, and the field of competition was far more open to the Jets than it may be in the future. This is a bitter defeat to swallow, and the Jets have much work to do this off-season is preparation for next year. What are the best outcomes for this talented, young franchise?

Who To Trade

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has a lot of work ahead of him in extending contracts to a number of restricted free agents and, potentially, unrestricted free agents. However, every contract comes at the expense of cap space, and Winnipeg’s days of remaining in the vicinity of the cap floor are clearly over. The Jets need to move out some salary and free up some additional roster slots for their talented pool of young prospects.

The first name that should be considered for trade is Tyler Myers. The third-pairing, right-handed defenseman has a year left on his contract, with a cap hit of $5.5 million. While Myers’ actual cash payout is significantly less than his cap hit, that doesn’t change that he’s quite pricey for the position and role he plays. At even-strength, Myers scores at the rate of a second-pairing blueliner and significantly increases his production on the power play. These are valuable attributes, since points-scoring defensemen are typically at a premium.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

While defensive scoring is great, Myers really struggles in the defensive zone. He has trouble executing breakout passes, and his decision-making when under pressure often leads to bad turnovers along the wall or in front of the net. Myers also has poor acceleration when skating from a standstill, and his occasional indecisiveness means speedier, smaller forwards frequently have the inside cut on his angles before he can react. The defensive issues are really compounded when he’s paired with another defensively-poor blueliner, and that’s often been the case this season.

All this said, Myers will likely fetch a premium on the open market. He plays a position of significant value and is thought to be the ideal right-handed power play quarterback. While Myers’ true power play value is likely inflated by the Jets forwards, there are plenty of teams that can look past that. Edmonton has seemingly expressed interest in acquiring a defenseman of Myers’ ilk, and they appear willing to expend young assets to build the roster they desire. The Oilers currently own the 10th-overall pick in this year’s draft, and have also been rumored to be shopping top left-handed defenseman, Oscar Klefbom. If a deal around Klefbom and Myers can be made, the Jets shouldn’t think twice about doing it. Oscar is a tremendous shot generator, and a down season due to injury shouldn’t frighten Winnipeg as much as it has Edmonton.

Winnipeg should also investigate trading right-winger Joel Armia. The 24-year old Finn scored a career-high 29 points and generally saw strong defensive results in suppressing scoring chances in the slot. Armia is a talented middle-six wing who could easily fetch a heftier return from a team like the Calgary Flames. The Flames are lacking in scoring wings to play in their top-9 and have a bevy of top defensive prospects to offer in return. If the Jets can create a package that includes Armia for someone like Oliver Kylington or Adam Fox, that’d be a tremendous win. It’s not a particularly realistic scenario as far as I’m concerned, but the NHL is a weird place and often confounds my expectations. Flames head coach Bill Peters appears to be a fan of Kylington, which may complicate matters if Calgary intends to (rightfully) play him next season.

I’ll receive flack for this, but it’s not a bad idea to consider trading Bryan Little. His next contract is a bit of an albatross, and Little’s production took a huge step back this season. Little’s days as an under-rated top-6 centre are likely in the rearview mirror, and the multi-year extension hits hard with an average annual cap hit of around $5.3 million. Once Paul Stastny was acquired, Little became a de facto third-line winger and didn’t have the production that would justify his upcoming price-tag. Little’s new contract also comes with a no-movement clause that extends through the first 3 years of his deal. Given the number of young players up for extension, the Little contract weighs heavily on that bit of cap space. The Jets need to decide quickly if they can afford to keep him on.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Winnipeg Jets at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The final potential trade option is Nicolas Petan. I’m least desirous of a Petan trade, if only because I know the kid is incredibly talented and is unlikely to get a great opportunity in Winnipeg. Petan had a monster season with the Manitoba Moose and was responsible for a significant portion of their 5v5 offense after Roslovic was called up. He’s been one of the top players in the AHL this season and possesses tremendous passing ability, an intelligent read of the game, and can pace the play to his tempo.

If Petan is traded, the return likely won’t be all that impressive. The Jets didn’t give him immensely skilled linemates or enough ice-time to generate much in the way of box scoring. Winnipeg will be relying on Petan’s AHL and WHL results to entice trading partners. A smart team will exploit this and grab a talented winger for a bargain-bin price. If Winnipeg can find a way to open a top-9 spot for Petan that provides him with skilled linemates, that’d be the most ideal outcome. It’s also the least likely at this point.

Who To Extend

The obvious candidates for contract renewal are Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, and Connor Hellebuyck. All three players have been pivotal to Winnipeg’s recent spate of success, and are due for significant raises over their current contracts. Trouba has reportedly expressed interest in remaining with the Jets long-term, and I’d be elated to have him signed for six years at an AAV of around $5.5-6 million. He’s a tremendous top-pairing defenseman with excellent skating, a strong shot, and a powerful frame. Dominant right-handed offensive blueliners of Trouba’s prestige are rare. He’s a franchise cornerstone, and deserves to be treated like one.

Morrissey should be viewed similarly to Trouba, though his contract will likely be less expensive than Jake’s deal. If the Jets can sign Morrissey for around five years at a value of $4.5-5 million, give or take, that’d be perfect. Morrissey had a monstrous season alongside Trouba, cementing an elite first-pairing for the Jets and proving the two should never be separated. With both Jacob and Josh under contract with term, the Jets would have an elite first-pairing defensive unit locked up during the Cup window.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Vegas Golden Knights at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

Hellebuyck’s next contract is something of a wild card. Goaltending deals are hard to predict, in part due to the scarcity of elite goalies on the market. Hellebuyck is a likely franchise netminder, but I’m always nervous about the year-to-year volatility of goaltending performance. If the Jets extended Connor for somewhere between three and four years at an average value of $5 million, I wouldn’t complain. A longer-term deal would probably approach the $6 million mark, which is a risky gamble. On the other hand, Hellebuyck’s body of work at the professional levels is strong enough to warrant the consideration of a major contract, so Winnipeg has a tough decision there.

One lesser-known free agent is Adam Lowry. The fourth-line centre is due for an extension, and was secretly one of Winnipeg’s most important depth weapons. The Lowry line completely and utterly dominated opposing top lines around the league. Defying expectations, Lowry’s unit muzzled Stamkos, Kucherov, Marchand, Bergeron, and numerous other elite scoring forwards. It opened up a ton of tactical flexibility for the Jets, and Lowry should be considered an invaluable depth player going forward. I’d like to see him signed for four or five years in the $3-3.5 million range.

As far as unrestricted free agents go, the only notable name is Tobias Enstrom. The veteran shutdown defenseman has been rumored to be contemplating retirement. If he comes back at a much cheaper contract for one more year, that’d be perfect for the Jets. The Enstrom-Byfuglien pairing was a world-class shot suppression duo this season, and the Jets lack many better options to fill the void Enstrom creates.

Who To Release

This is a fairly short list, but it’s time to say our goodbyes to Shawn Matthias and Matt Hendricks. Matthias had a much rougher stint with the Jets, facing several injuries and setbacks during his time here. Hendricks quickly became a fan favorite for his leadership and determination, but his poor penalty-killing performance and lack of foot-speed were legitimate concerns. The Jets have a boatload of young forwards that they need to evaluate for talent, and neither Matthias nor Hendricks figures into the long-term picture for this team. I appreciate their contributions, however limited, but it’s time to move on.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at New York Rangers Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The other name that Winnipeg may have to let go is Paul Stastny. I’d love for Paul to stay, but I have no idea what his personal goals are at this point. The Jets are probably his best chance at a Cup for the foreseeable future. In order to fit, however, he’d either have to leave term and money on the table, or the Jets would have to move Little to offer Stastny a few more seasons. It’s a challenging situation, and Winnipeg needs to tread carefully. Stastny did seem to enjoy playing with Laine and Ehlers, so a deal isn’t out of the question.

Looking Ahead

The next few months are going to be defining moments for the future of the Winnipeg Jets. In case your heart-rate wasn’t high enough during the playoffs, the looming contract extensions and potential trade options should drive it through the roof. Over the next few weeks I’ll also be looking into more potential draft options for the Jets. Despite not owning a first-round pick this year, Winnipeg will still likely walk away with some quality talent to add to the pool.

I’ll also examine some potential names to slot into the line-up for next season, including the conditions under which we should expect to see Jack Roslovic and Sami Niku. If you thought this year’s team was good, you might be surprised at what the Jets can ice for next year. As always, please feel free to leave any questions below and I’ll do my best to try and address them. Go Jets Go!