Saturday, June 02, 2018

Pool Outlook for Winnipeg

If you were reading some of the major publications out there or watching those hockey programs on television before the season got started, they would have been telling you that it was a matter of when, not if, the Winnipeg Jets would be breaking out and there was no better time than the present for this team, as they broke out big time in the 2018 season.

The Jets' offense took off, tied for 2nd in the NHL in goals for with 277, but more importantly, they had a goaltender step up and take the reins in the crease and with their already-established defense, they ranked 6th in goals against, leveraging some dominance in the regular season.

And if you asked just about anyone, heading into the playoffs, this really could have been their year.  They dispatched of the Minnesota Wild in five games in the opening round, the battle between themselves and the Nashville Predators went seven games, before they ran into the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Finals.  The Golden Knights were too strong defensively, taking away all the Winnipeg weapons and quickly ended their run in five games.

Despite the playoff disappointment, the Jets can hang their hats on the fact that they have a strong core now, stronger than ever before and the expectations will soon follow, as we head into next season.

The Winnipeg Jets made a free agent investment in their goaltending situation in the off-season, but it was a keeper from inside the organization that stepped up to get the job done, as Connor Hellebuyck established himself as the number one guy, appearing in 67 games for the Jets, winning 44 contests and posting 102 points in the hockey pool scoring.  That was good enough for 4th overall and 2nd among all goalies in points, good enough for a Vezina finalist nod this season.

In total, the Jets had 13 players in the conversation for the hockey pool and being worthy, including eight forwards and four defensemen.  Up front, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Paul Stastny, Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault were all among the top 200 forwards, while Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba were among the top 100 defenders.  This was a lot of building from within the organization, being patient with their youth and then watching them flourish, adding Stastny at the trade deadline, just for an immediate boost to the lineup.

What I Said Last Year, At This 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.

Well, the Jets signed Steve Mason to a free agent deal in the off-season, but they also had to re-sign Connor Hellebuyck from his restricted free agent status in the summer as well.  Hellebuyck sure earned his $2.25 million in 2018 and he'll be going back to free agency this summer too.  It was the biggest make or break move in the summer last year and it's now an even bigger move this year.  The Jets made all the right moves and they were a strong team.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I had some faith that Tyler Myers would be able to finally bounce back to some regular scoring totals, if he could stay healthy and that he did.  The lanky defenseman has been mired in injury hell for the two seasons previous, but in 2018, he was able to play in all 82 games and he was well within the pool worthy conversation, 36th among all defensemen in scoring with 6 goals and 36 points.  He would have been a pretty good add to your team, especially if you picked him up late.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Mark Scheifele 6.125 Dustin Byfuglien 7.600 Steve Mason 4.100
Nikolaj Ehlers 6.000 Tyler Myers 5.500 Mikhail Berdin 0.758
Blake Wheeler 5.600 Dmitry Kulikov 4.333
Bryan Little 5.291 Ben Chiarot 1.400
Mathieu Perreault 4.125 Logan Stanley 0.894
Andrew Copp 1.000 Luke Green 0.847
Kyle Connor 0.925 Sami Niku 0.775
Patrik Laine 0.925
Jack Roslovic 0.894
Brendan Lemieux 0.839
C.J. Suess 0.793
Jansen Harkins 0.768
Mason Appleton 0.758
Michael Spacek 0.752

The Winnipeg Jets have a lot of work to do in this off-season, by the look of things.  Only nine of their 13 pool worthy players are signed on for next season and the four that are not signed filled some pretty big holes.  Either the team will be looking internally to get some signings done or else they'll be tinkering hard through the free agent market.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

It is likely fair to assume that Paul Stastny won't be back for next season, as the unrestricted free agent-to-be has a hefty price tag, year after year, coming off a $7 million cap hit on his last deal.  The Jets will focus hard on Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba, all restricted free agents in July and they'll be looking for significant raises here right away.

The question quickly becomes, how do they fit those three players, plus some more depth, into $16+ million in possible cap space?  It's going to be super tight and without a firm cap number to speak of, it's really speculation at this point.  I currently have them at $13.4 million against 2018's cap ceiling, but that's going up, but we don't know by how much.  Still, the Jets have some hard work to do and there could be some shifting of talent yet to do.

If the blueline doesn't sort itself out to a point where there is a lot of returning players from the 2018 season, which it might not, this could be the chance that 24-year old defender Tucker Poolman needs to jump into the top six or seven and make an impact.  The Jets saw Poolman for 24 games in the 2018 season, picking up a couple of points as an injury replacement, but there could be a job for him in the coming year.  The Jets like his size and his skating, which would work well in the lineup full-time, but they do have to sign him to a new deal this summer too.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft

The Jets rented out Paul Stastny from the Blues this year and they needed their 1st round pick to do so, so the 28th overall selection is going to St. Louis, who sent their pick to Philadelphia earlier in the season.

Now, I had selected a defenseman for the Blues in my initial Pool Outlook for them, but that will be negated in the end, since they traded that pick away.  So, I am going to find them another defenseman, assuming that the Flyers took their pick as is.  With the pick, I'm thinking some extra size on the back end would go a long ways, so they'll select Adam Ginning from the Swedish League.  He's described as a physical leader, who plays a hard game and doesn't find himself out of position too often.

The Winnipeg Jets have an exciting bunch of players on-hand, but their overall team chemistry does hinge on management's ability to get the necessary work done to sign big players in the summer.  The free agent class from the Jets is going to be big and it includes a few key pieces to their success in 2018 and getting that job done will be clutch.  Once that gets done, and I assume that it will, they can focus on using their experience of losing in the Conference Finals to their advantage.  This is a hard-working team that should be competitive in the long run.  Expecting them to make a run for the Central Division title isn't out of the question and it will be how they built on their disappointment that carries them as far as they can get in the playoffs.  Can they win it all?  It's certainly possible with this lineup.

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