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Three questions facing Winnipeg Jets

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Winnipeg Jets.

Three questions for you to ponder regarding the 2018-19 Winnipeg Jets…

1. Who will replace Paul Stastny on the second line?

The Jets made one of the best deadline rentals in the NHL last year when they landed Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues, adding to an offense that was already one of the best in the league. Stastny made an immediate impact and proved to be a perfect fit on the team’s second line between young studs Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. During the regular season and playoffs that trio outscored teams by a 24-12 margin at 5-on-5, while Stastny put together an incredible postseason individually with 15 points in the team’s 17 games. He turned that performance into a long-term contract with the Vegas Golden Knights in free agency, leaving a vacancy on the Jets’ second line.

It is probably expected that spot will once again be filled by Bryan Little, just as it was last season before the addition of Stastny.

That is going to put some pressure on Little because he is coming off of a down year and did not seem to be a great fit between Laine and Elhers (they performed much better alongside Stastny).

If not Little, another internal candidate could be 2015 first-round pick Jack Roslovic.

The 21-year-old Roslovic got his first real look in the NHL this past season, appearing in 31 games for the Jets, scoring five goals to go with nine assists. Expecting him to take over such a big role at this point may be expecting too much, but he certainly has potential and has been outstanding in the American Hockey League the past two years.

2. Will they be able to keep everybody?

The Jets have a significant chunk of their core signed long-term with Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, Dustin Byfuglien, and Connor Hellebuyck all signed for at least the next three years (Scheifele, Ehlers, Little, and Hellebuyck are signed for at least the next five), while some of them are signed to what can fairly be called “team-friendly” deals under the salary cap.

That is all very good.

[Jets Day: 2017-18 Review | Under Pressure | Breakthrough]

But they still have some big contract decisions coming over the next years as team captain Blake Wheeler, prized goal-scorer Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba are all due for new contracts after this season. Wheeler and Myers are set to become unrestricted free agents, while the others are all still restricted.

It is a given that Laine and Connor are going to get taken care of given their age, production, and potential.

The big questions are going to revolve around Wheeler and, most especially, Trouba.

Wheeler has been one of the league’s most productive — and underrated — wingers over the past six years and has become one of the Jets’ most valuable players. But he is also entering his age 32 season (he actually celebrates his 32nd birthday Today, on Jets’ day) and there is some risk with a long-term contract for a player at that age. He is still great now, but will he be when he is 35 or 36?

Then there is Trouba, one of the team’s best and most important defenseman whose contract saga has been a complicated one for years. It almost seems like a given that he is not going to be a member of the Jets for the long haul and the only question that remains is whether or not he gets traded before the trade deadline or in the offseason.

3. Will they make another run at the Stanley Cup Final?

After going nearly two decades in their existence without winning a single playoff game (and only making the playoffs twice) the Jets came almost out of nowhere last season to finish with the league’s second-best record (a 27-point improvement from the year before) and come within three games of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

There is every reason to believe that the roster as presently constructed can continue to be a force in the Western Conference.

They are, for the most part, fairly young with a significant collection of their core all still in their peak years, they are incredibly talented (especially at forward) and should have the salary cap flexibility to make another significant splash in-season if they feel they can make a trade to help put them over the top.

The big question is going to be whether or not the goaltending holds out and performs the way it did this past season. If Hellebuyck can continue to be a legitimate No. 1 starting goaltender there is no reason why this team can not be a factor in the Western Conference.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

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He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

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: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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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.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.