As crucial as it was to make the playoffs for the first time since returning to Winnipeg, the 2015-16 season is even bigger for the Jets.
After years of frustration, management’s slow-and-steady approach showed serious returns, but the franchise is heading toward multiple forks in the road.
Let’s consider some of the big factors ahead.
Contract years for key players – Hockey fans can debate whether Dustin Byfuglien’s the biggest name on the Jets or not, but he’s the earth-shaking wild card. Andrew Ladd is the gritty, stable winger who might just be the polar opposite. They’ve been immensely important players in Winnipeg, but what does the future hold?
Aging core – It’s easy to look at 21-year-old Jacob Trouba and 22-year-old Mark Scheifele and picture a bright future, especially with a generally well-regarded farm system.
For all the future talk, it’s a make-or-break season for the current crop of key players. Byfuglien is 30, Ladd is 29, Blake Wheeler is 28 and Bryan Little is 27.
Those core players aren’t ancient, but management probably needs to see them win some playoff games (or even series) to justify keeping the band together.
Goalie question – To especially weary Winnipegers, Ondrej Pavelec’s contract probably feels endless, and it does still have two years remaining. Management is sticking with Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson, which is a short-term gamble. Are they any closer to making a decision that reaches a little further?
The Jets have some big questions to answer next season, yet let’s not forget: Winnipeg hasn’t been home to an NHL team with this sort of potential for a long, long time.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.
Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.
Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.
Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.
The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.
Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.
After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.
Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.
MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.
But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.
“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”
Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.
“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”
Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.
Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.
Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.
SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.
Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.
The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.
Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.
Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.