Arguably, the Jets were let down by their back end, as their defensive depth was challenged by injuries to Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and Tobias Enstrom and then their goaltending suffered, likely in part to the lack of consistency in the lineup in front of them. Both Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, although inexperienced, in terms of a starting duo in the NHL, were thought to be talented enough to push the Jets through, so much so, they exiled Ondrej Pavelec to the AHL for the better part of the year.
The forwards did their best to keep the team afloat and managed to do a damn good job, but those injuries and the defensive depth couldn't stand up to the long season and they fell out of the playoff picture, finished as the best team in the West not to get a playoff spot and they had some numbers in the NHL draft lottery. Certainly not where they wanted to be, but it's just the way it all unraveled for them.
The Jets hype was quite apparent at the draft to start the season, as 14 players were taken in October. Hype was definitely the name of the game, when Patrik Laine was the top player taken from Winnipeg, taken in the 2nd round, 37th overall. It was a pretty good spread through the draft, except in the 4th round, where there were three Jets taken in a row. The excitement wore away quickly, as three were dropped at the first Waiver Draft, while two were picked to replace them. The second Waiver Draft did put them back, as one was dropped for two picks. The Jets dealt one player away at the deadline, leaving the team with 13 active players in the pool, by season's end.
Forward Mark Scheifele emerged as a top scorer in the league with a good 2017 season, leading the Jets with 32 goals and 82 points in 79 games played. That was good enough for 12th overall in pool scoring, a mid-1st round pick at over a point-per-game scoring pace.
The Jets also had a second player to finish with 1st round points, not to mention a couple of forwards worthy of being 2nd round picks. Blake Wheeler had a damn fine year with 74 points, while Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers were giving everyone a sign of things to come from the Jets. Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry rounded out the forwards who finished in the top 200 at the position. Three Winnipeg defensemen finished pool worthy in Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey were all up in the top 100 among defenders, Big Buff was still ranked 6th, despite having a bit of a down year. Finally, despite the troubles that the Jets goaltending had, both were considered pool worthy by the end of the year, as Hellebuyck and Hutchinson took most of the reps and earned just enough points for the nod.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
The 2017 season for the Jets shouldn't be about the learning curve, but it likely will be. They are going to install a whole bunch more youth into this lineup and trying to translate into wins immediately is going to be very difficult. It's not impossible, but it is very improbable. If there was one element to this team that leads me to believe that they could do something special next season, it would be their blueline. Extending Byfuglien long-term, keeping Myers around, Enstrom won't hurt them and then re-signing Trouba will be key. These are the guys that will make or break the Jets, as they should have the goaltending to compete and then it is a bunch of youthful enthusiasm up front. In that Central Division, they'll have their work cut out for them.
The Central Division was no picnic this season, as expected, as the Jets finished as the best team not to be in a wild card spot in the West, but that's no consolation to their year. The emergence of Patrik Laine as a bonafide scorer as a teenager has the Jets pleased with the direction they're going in, but now they have to build a little bit more around him and possibly fix that goaltending situation of theirs.
2018 Pool Outlook
|Mark Scheifele||6.125||Dustin Byfuglien||7.600||Michael Hutchinson||1.150|
|Blake Wheeler||5.600||Jacob Trouba||3.000|
|Bryan Little||4.700||Joshua Morrissey||0.863|
|Shawn Matthias||2.125||Toby Enstrom||5.750||Jamie Phillips||0.675|
|Joel Armia||0.925||Tyler Myers||5.500||Eric Comrie||0.637|
|Kyle Connor||0.925||Mark Stuart||2.625|
|Jack Roslovic||0.925||Logan Stanley||0.925|
|Chase De Leo||0.875||Tucker Poolman||0.925|
|Brendan Lemieux||0.839||Nelson Nogier||0.713|
|Jansen Harkins||0.768||Jan Kostalek||0.693|
|Nic Petan||0.758||Julian Melchiori||0.625|
The Winnipeg Jets will continue to be a popular team to pick from in the hockey pool, because look at all that scoring prowess they have among their skaters. Seven solid forwards and a trio of defensemen last season and when you look further down the list, there are players that could even make the jump up to there next season. There's lots to be excited about for the Jets, but goaltending may not be one of those things.
Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft
The Jets are likely going to want to keep their defense corps together, as they do have some great strength along the blueline, so I could see the Jets protect 4F/4D/1G for the expansion draft and that would expose some of their depth up front. Mathieu Perreault, Shawn Matthias or Joel Armia could be attractive to the Golden Knights and if my protection scheme was right, Vegas could have themselves a very serviceable forward here.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
Looking towards free agency, the Jets are not going to be overly burdened by the players set to have their contracts expire in July. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is the only pool worthy player that is heading to free agency and he'll be a restricted free agent at that.
Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Thorburn are the top two dollar value players heading to unrestricted free agency and I could see the latter return for another turn, while the former spent too much time in the minors to likely want to come back.
If the Jets are going to go shopping for a goalie this summer, they will at least have the money to do so, as their cap situation is quite flexible. The 31 players that are signed up above, still leave $8.4 million to play with and we'd still have to pare away eight players to make a complete roster, so it could be closer to $12 million, when it's all said and done.
A lot of us were thinking that we would see forward Kyle Connor as a full-time player last season, he was even taken in the draft in October, but a slow start and an injury derailed him from an NHL season. Nevertheless, a solid year in the AHL doesn't hurt his overall value moving forward and Connor should be in the mix for a roster spot this year. If the Jets do indeed lose a forward to the expansion draft, that is opening the door for Connor and showing him in.
Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft
The real need for the Jets is in goal, but there doesn't appear to be any standout keepers in this draft class, so there's no sense in wasting a top end pick for a 2nd or 3rd round goalie. I think the Jets go back to the blueline, try to add some more poise and solid play and from what I read, Connor Timmins of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds has a lot of those features in his game and he could add to a good blueline already and maybe come along when the eventual cap crunch claims some victims in a couple of years time.
This appears to be a buyer's year for goalies, with the post-expansion draft free agency period ready to have a good number of options in it. This is where Winnipeg is going to make or break their 2018 season, on paper anyways. Winnipeg has plenty of forward depth to guard against the sophomore jinx for Laine, Scheifele has emerged as a top player in the league and their defense could amaze again, if they can remain healthy. The disappointment in Chicago and Minnesota in the playoffs this year could signal that the Central Division is ready for change, but the Jets have to earn their spot, it won't be given to them. Will they be a playoff team next season? It depends on how many millions of reasons they give us (and to a goalie) in this off-season.