As summer approached I wrote about my anxiety surrounding Jacob Trouba as well as some of the veteran “bad” contracts that we need to consider parting with. As most fans expected, Jacob Trouba is no longer a Jet, we’ve lost some UFA’s that we likely were not going to sign (Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev, Ben Chiarot), and the Jets have signed no new major free agents. The NHL has moved into what is traditionally the quietest part of the off season, post draft and free agency frenzy. I would not expect any major additions or trades for the Jets before the start of the season. As a change from my anxiety level scale, let’s check in with my optimism/pessimism around the Jets heading into the season.
Our Roster – Pessimistic
The reality is that we’ve lost four players from our regular lineup from a season ago, including three of our top six defenseman. The thinking amongst some Jets fans is that all but Trouba should be replaceable with a player stepping into the lineup, or moving up in the lineup. The key word being “should” be replaceable.
Essentially, for the Jets to be a competitive (i.e. playoff) team next season, we have a lot riding on hope. We have to hope that we get bigger contributions from forwards Jack Roslovic, Andrew Copp, Patrik Laine, and Adam Lowry. Message to Roslovic and his agent – you’re going to get your chance to be a top six player this season – don’t blow it. Copp, Laine and Lowry all have to contribute more offensively because I don’t hold out much hope for Mathieu Perreault or Bryan Little to regain their offensive touch.
We have to hope that Neal Pionk, Sami Niku and Nathan Beaulieu become consistent NHL middle pair level defenseman. Trouba will not be replaced by any of these players. Tyler Myers became Jets fans whipping boy number one, and Ben Chiarot was likely playing a bit higher in the lineup than he should have. However, I’m not convinced any of the players stepping in for them are going to be better this season.
We have to hope that players like Kristian Vesalainen, Mason Appleton and Tucker Poolman make the Jets and are ready to contribute for an entire season. Fans who have clamoured for Paul Maurice to give more chances to younger players are going to get their wish this coming season. However, it may be a case of be careful what you wish for. Vesalainen and Appleton are looking at bottom six minutes, replacing a respected, energy type player who has been rewarded by the Penguins. I’d expect Poolman to get into the lineup at some point and likely be our seventh defenseman. It’s a lot to ask of these young players.
What’s Chevy’s Plan? – Optimistic
My confidence in Kevin Cheveldayoff has been shaken this year given the lopsided, pressured Trouba trade and the panic trade for Kevin Hayes. Despite those errors, I still have faith in Chevy. The RFA offer sheet potential scare has essentially passed with a whimper thanks to Canadiens GM Marc Bergeron testing the waters. This means that Chevy take a few deep breaths and negotiate with the agents for Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Andrew Copp with a bit more confidence. GM’s are still waiting for the Mitch Marner contract as the first domino to fall in the RFA market, but, I think Jet fans can sleep easier knowing that it’s unlikely a that a team swoops in on any of our RFA’s.
My optimism comes from a number of areas. First, as Cara pointed out, Chevy basically did nothing when free agency kicked in. It’s exciting to watch your team’s GM go out and spend big bucks on sexy free agents, but after these types of signings, reality kicks in. Many of the contracts signed are going to look bad in a season or two from now. Also, unlike the NBA, rarely does a big free agent signing in the NHL vault a team from pretender to contender. We just saw a team with pretty pedestrian roster who had the worst record in the NHL at Christmas win the Stanley Cup. Hockey is a strange game.
Second, call me crazy, but, I also am optimistic that Chevy is going to regain his mojo in terms of trades. There are still teams out there with serious salary cap issues, and I believe that Chevy may be able to acquire a player or two because of that. I have to think he’s still looking at a legitimate top four defenseman and that there may be some deals still to be had.
Last, I do believe that Chevy has a plan. It seems to be rooted in salary cap management – not overpaying free agents or veterans; managing your own RFA’s; and clearing cap space for potential future trades, signings or RFA’s. Broken record time but, salary cap management is going to be the key component for any NHL team going forward. NHL teams are still relatively new to this concept and have yet to reach the levels of salary cap hell that we’re going to see in a couple of seasons. I like where the Jets are sitting in comparison to some other teams, and I’m optimistic Chevy may be able to capitalize on that.
Thoughts? What are you optimistic or pessimistic about?