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Usage can improve a player

Blake Wheeler is playing fewer minutes per game than he has in previous seasons to start the season, but he is playing better in those minutes than he had been playing in previous seasons. Why is that and what can the Jets learn from this accidental experiment?

New York Rangers v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

In hockey years, Blake Wheeler is old. He is 36 years old now and he has two more seasons, including this season on his contract. If they Jets can add value to his contract via player usage, they will be able to extract more value from Wheeler whether it is on the team or in the form of a trade. No matter what road the Jets go down with Wheeler, if his current play remains, it will prove something rather interesting.

Wheeler was never a bad player, but he looked not great because he was overused for his age and ability. When it comes to managing his minutes, offloading some of them to the (currently injured) Nikolaj Ehlers, it takes the burden off of the 36 year old’s body and onto Ehlers’ body which is 10 years younger and has fewer miles on it. It offloads minutes from someone who has exited their prime to someone who is theoretically still in their prime. This allows the Jets to get the most they can from both players which in turn hopefully gives them a better return on investment.

The Jets have seen an improvement from Wheeler probably because his minutes are being managed better. The quality of minutes are more important that the quantity of minutes. The Jets will hopefully realize that the current path they are on with Wheeler is the one most likely to maximize his play.

Wheeler was never a bad player last year. When I looked into his traditional numbers including Corsi and Fenwick, he was still good. The issue was he was being used too much for what he could still give and that was causing a downgrade in his overall performance. While there was some whispers of the Jets trying to trade him last summer, it never seemed like the Jets were overly committed to the idea of moving him as they did not offer him with salary retention. Someone on the Jets side probably noted there is still a good NHL player in there, but they needed to use him smarter in all situations to help him maintain his effectiveness at the top level.