Blake Wheeler

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Byfuglien’s loss is Trouba’s gain with Jets

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Theoretically, you could attempt to make the “injuries open up the door for other players to succeed” argument just about all the time, but aside from a Kurt Warner discovery here and there, most of the time a star player being out week-to-week is abysmal for a team.

The Winnipeg Jets can’t be thrilled to learn that Dustin Byfuglien is considered week-to-week thanks to a lower-body injury, with PHT’s Scott Billeck reporting that they hope to get the bulky blueliner back sometime around the Christmas holiday.

The domino effect could be bad overall, yet this actually is one of those cases where an injury could open a door for a player capable of much more, as Jacob Trouba stands to gain some significant offensive opportunities with Byfuglien on the shelf.

That much was already made clear today, as Trouba took Byfuglien’s spot on the top power-play unit. As of this writing, Byfuglien was averaging a team-leading 3:34 PP TOI per contest this season, towering over Trouba’s average of 1:22 per night.

You could make a reasonable argument that finances might have played a role in Byfuglien getting such an opportunity advantage, as Buffy is taking in (an increasingly scary) $7.6 million through 2020-21, while Trouba’s 2017-18 will play a significant role in how much of a raise he receives from his borderline-insulting $2.8M mark.

If all things were equal, would Byfuglien get this much leash, considering somewhat disappointing totals (zero goals, 15 assists)?

[Are the Jets merely cold or is this reality starting to hit them?]

Look, it’s likely that Byfuglien was going to get some bounces, much like Brent Burns finally is getting in San Jose. Still, considering the focus Winnipeg’s incredible forwards can draw, you’d ideally want to see Byfuglien fire at least a few pucks in the net.

Last week, The Athletic’s Craig Custance wrote about (sub required) Trouba being willing to sacrifice offensive opportunities this season, even in a contract year. An anonymous NHL executive read many minds in wondering if Trouba was capable of more than he’s shown so far this season.

“I could see a guy like Trouba segueing into a more offensive role. Where he is today, I don’t think is necessarily the ultimate barometer,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “They have a pretty good team. They play a great team game. The forwards are awesome. Sometimes you have to just give it to (Patrik) Laine and watch.”

Perhaps that’s true, but again, players like Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Nikolaj Ehlers create havoc for opposing defenses. Sometimes such threats force teams to cheat a little bit to try to reduce their chances, conceivably opening up potentially precious extra moments for other skilled players to take advantage of unusually large windows of opportunity.

Trouba’s game has clearly gone more conservative at times this season. You can see it even in just shooting; Trouba’s averaging 2.3 shots on goal per contest, down from 2.57 per night last season. That might not seem massive, but wouldn’t you expect a healthy dose of greed to push Trouba closer to three SOG per game, especially since it might actually benefit Winnipeg for a talented player to fire the biscuit that much more?

A cynical observer might wonder if the Jets were trying to have their cake and eat it too here: hold off on Trouba getting a bigger offensive push until after he signs his next contract, while reaping the benefits of having at least one more season of employing a top-pairing defenseman for less than $3M.

[Jets salary cap outlook, and more on how much Trouba could cost.]

Sly observers will see that Trouba is an excellent two-way piece, but when it comes to contract negotiations, sometimes a lack of goals and assists can mysteriously hurt a blueliner’s bottom line.

All of these factors make this tweak awfully interesting for Trouba, not to mention other Jets players, including the wonderfully named Tucker Poolman.

Deep down, Jets management might not want this experiment to be too successful, honestly.

In other Jets injury news, Steve Mason has been activated from IR. Check out more Jets fun from Billeck at NHL.com.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Is it a slump or is regression setting in for the Winnipeg Jets?

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Might regression be hitting the Winnipeg Jets at the moment?

It’s a question Jets fans are asking themselves after a three-game road trip that produced just a single point and a goose egg in the win column.

It’s the first time the Jets have lost three straight all season. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have come as much surprise, but the Jets have thrown the status quo out the window this season and have sung a different tune.

The analytics would suggest the Jets were due for a fall back to earth.

For most of the season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in terms of Corsi, with only recently climbing up that ladder with a help of a very lopsided game against the Ottawa Senators.

Regression in goal is also starting to happen, and a lot of Winnipeg’s early-season success had to do with how well Connor Hellebuyck had been playing.

Hellebuyck has been sensational most of the season and his 15-3-4  record supports that. But his save percentage has been trending in the wrong direction lately. In five of his past six starts, Hellebuyck has only achieved a .900 save percentage or better once, and that came in that 5-0 shutout against the Senators.

Nov. 27 vs MIN: .895
Nov. 29 vs COL: .885
Dec. 1 vs VGK: .871
Dec. 3 vs. OTT: 1.000
Dec. 5 vs DET: .844
Dec. 9 vs TBL: .857

The Jets give up a lot of shots, so the odds that Hellebuyck’s early season numbers would survive throughout the year were low.

The sky is by no means falling in Winnipeg. The Jets showed they can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on Saturday. Overtime has just been the bane of their existence this season with a 0-5 record in free hockey.

The Jets touched the summit of the Western Conference last week, a pipe dream around these parts in recent times. They also possess two of the league’s top point-producers (Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler) and one of the league’s top goal scorers (Patrik Laine), not to mention having a rookie just outside top 10 in rookie scoring (Kyle Connor).

Prior to the road trip, Winnipeg’s power play had scored eight times in 19 attempts.

The Jets have also been largely healthy. Defenseman Toby Enstrom is the midst of an eight-week spell in the press box — and there’s a pending diagnosis coming for Dustin Byfuglien after he left Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury — but the Jets gotten by relatively unscathed thus far and managed well when Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry missed several games.

The Jets have made too many strides this season to regress too far away from where they are right now. Asking a team to go from outside the playoff line to tops in the division might be asking a tad too much. But with that said, the Jets are simply a good team these days and stacked with high-level talent.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Blues season-ticket holder suits up as emergency goalie

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• A big blow for the Vancouver Canucks, as Bo Horvat will miss up to six weeks because of a lower-body injury. (Canucks Army)

• The Penguins called up Frank Corrado from the minors because they were forced to put Justin Schultz on IR. (Pittsburgh Tribune)

• Dave Lozo argues that the NHL needs a “super team” like the NBA has with the Golden State Warriors. With John Tavares, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson about to hit free agency over the next couple of years, it’s entirely possible that those three can join forces. (Vice)

• The Tampa Bay Lightning have been really good this season, but are they even better than we realize? (TSN.ca)

J.T. Brown, Alex Ovechkin, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin are all proof that the NHL is definitely political. (Sporting News)

Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are huge reasons for Winnipeg’s strong start to the 2017-18 season. (NHL.com)

• From top to bottom, things are pretty tight in the Metropolitan Division. Believe it or not, there’s only 11 points separating first and last place. (elitesportsny.com)

• The Calgary Flames definitely miss Kris Versteeg on and off the ice. Whether it’s the things he does during games or his ability to be the team deejay in the locker room, they can’t wait for him to be back. (Calgary Herald)

• The Hockey News compares Capitals forward Tom Wilson to a bully in 1980’s teen movies. (The Hockey News)

• Many expect the Sabres to trade pending free agent Evander Kane, but what would Buffalo’s salary cap situation look like if they signed him to an extension? Diebytheblade.com has the answer.

• Things have been rocky for Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith lately. Not only did he finish minus-4 in a game earlier this week, he’s also failed to score in 42 consecutive games. (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Devils blue liner Steve Santini had been struggling this season, but the acquisition of Sami Vatanen has allowed him to slide into a more comfortable spot on the depth chart. (NJDab.com)

• Here’s an awesome story about a Blues season-ticket holder that became the team’s emergency goalie last night. (The Score)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Fantasy adds & drops: One cool DeBrincat

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Every week, PHT will try to help its readers by providing some fantasy hockey advice. This column will attempt to guide you through the rough waters of your league’s waiver wire.

We’ll recommend players to pick up that are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues and we’ll tell you who you should drop, too.

Here it is:

Alex DeBrincat-LW/RW-Chicago Blackhawks (owned in 36 percent of Yahoo leagues)

DeBrincat, who will turn 20 this month, picked up an impressive 14 points in 13 games during the month of November. He’s currently on pace to score 33 goals in his rookie season, which is pretty impressive for a player of his age. If you’re in a dynasty league, he’s a must-add off the waiver wire.

Mathieu Perreault-C/LW-Winnipeg Jets (18 percent)

Perreault has never hit the 50-point mark at the NHL level, but he seems to have figured things out this season. Even though he missed a good chunk of the season with a lower-body injury, he’s managed to put up 14 points in 15 games. The Jets have a ton of firepower which means they’ll likely continue filling up the net. Perreault probably won’t be a point-per-game player the rest of the way, but there’s definitely some value there.

Kyle Connor-LW-Winnipeg Jets (18 percent)

Connor is currently on the shelf with a minor injury, but he’s still worth picking up in most leagues. The 17th overall pick in 2015 is quietly putting together a solid rookie season, as he’s already up to nine goals and 17 points in 21 contests. The fact that he’s been playing with talented players like Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler will only help his fantasy outlook.

[More Fantasy: RotoWorld’s Waiver Wired column]

Adam Henrique-C-Anaheim Ducks (16 percent)

Henrique’s tenure with the Ducks is off to a great start, as he’s produced a goal and an assist in his first two games with his new team. Anaheim has been decimated by injuries (Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell and Ryan Kesler have all missed time), so Henrique will continue to play an offensive role with the team.

Pierre-Luc Dubois-C/LW-Columbus Blue Jackets (8 percent)

It might still be a little early to pick up Dubois off the waiver wire, but there’s no harm in giving him a mention at this point. He’s only picked up 11 points in 27 games this season, but he’s been producing a lot more lately. The Jackets rookie has a four-game point streak going (he’s picked up six points during that stretch). He’s also playing significant minutes during this stretch, as he’s played at least 18:49 in three of the four contests. He’s a high-risk/high-reward add in most fantasy leagues.

Drop: 

Clayton Keller-C/LW/RW-Arizona Coyotes (62 percent)

Having Keller on the drop list would have been unthinkable a month ago, but his production has really dipped over the little while. Even though  he has three assists in his last four contests, the Coyotes rookie hasn’t found the back of the net in 14 straight games. He was a great story early on, but it probably wasn’t realistic for anyone to think he would keep rolling at a point-per-game pace on a bad Coyotes team.

[More Fantasy: RotoWorld’s In the Crease column]

Matt Duchene-C/RW-Ottawa Senators (50 percent)

Duchene finally got his wish, as he was moved to Ottawa from Colorado a few weeks ago, but that hasn’t helped his on-ice production. Since playing his first game with the Sens on Nov. 10, Duchene has picked up just two points. He might get back on track eventually, but he can safely be dropped for now.

Henrik Zetterberg-C/LW-Detroit Red Wings (48 percent)

The Red Wings have been a disaster of late. Not only have they dropped seven games in a row, they’re also coming off a 10-1 dismantling at the hands of the Canadiens on Saturday night. Zetterberg hasn’t scored in 20 games and he’s accumulated just 15 points in 2017-18. As great as he’s been over the years, it might be time to part ways with him in all fantasy formats.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Knights stay Golden

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Player of the Night: Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

The Senators’ struggles dominated this post about Winnipeg beating them 5-0, but the bigger takeaway might be the reminder that the Jets are indeed for real.

It’s not just the Jets or even Patrik Laine who deserve more attention; their captain Blake Wheeler is long overdue for his moment in the spotlight. The Minnesota native moved to fourth place in NHL scoring with 35 points on the season thanks to a goal and three assists on Sunday.

Wheeler, 31, has been especially hot lately. Even with one pointless night mixed in, Wheeler has produced 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in his past four games. Wheeler – Mark Scheifele continues to rise among the NHL’s deadliest duos, with Sunday being a big part of that argument.

Runner up: Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars

Seguin, meanwhile, isn’t sneaking up on anyone … except the Colorado Avalanche, perhaps?

Either way, I have to admit in looking things over, I thought “Wow, Seguin already has 14 goals now?” That’s after Seguin collected two goals in Dallas’ 7-2 victory against Colorado.

Note that Seguin’s career-high is 37 goals, a mark that he’s reached twice. So far, his 14 goals come in 27 games, a pace that’s slighter better than a tally every two nights. If he can play 82 games and maintain that pace, Seguin could enjoy a career-high and maybe break the 40-goal barrier for the first time in his career.

Considering his talents, it’s almost surprising that it might take this long.

Other top highlights

Not going to fight you if you prefer Seguin’s goals, but here are some other candidates.

Alex Tuch might just find himself a firm place in Vegas, as he scored a slightly prettier goal in regulation than Reilly Smith did to win it for the Golden Knights in OT:

Nathan MacKinnon‘s mixture of anxiety-inducing twitchiness and cool, precise timing + Mikko Rantanen‘s great finish = another beauty:

Factoids of the Night

The Golden Knights have long defied “for an expansion team,” yet it’s still fun to keep tabs on which records they’re tying, breaking, or approaching.

A highly #specificstat regarding Wheeler:

Shenanigans

(OK, the last image wasn’t from Sunday, but you can’t say that you regret seeing it, can you? Oh, sorry, Oilers fans.)

Scores

Kings 3, Blackhawks 1
Jets 5, Senators 0
Stars 7, Avalanche 2
Golden Knights 3, Coyotes 2 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.