Will Jets, Scheifele learn right lessons from sweep, suspension?

Will Jets, Scheifele learn right lessons from sweep, suspension?
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No NHL team enjoys losing a playoff series. Even after shockingly sweeping the Oilers, getting swept only deepened the wounds for the Winnipeg Jets.

But with setbacks like the Jets suffering that sweep vs. the Canadiens, and Mark Scheifele‘s four-game suspension, there can be some long-term silver linings. Unless, you know, you fail to learn the right lessons.

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Ultimately, we’ll get a better idea how the Jets process this sweep by observing their actual moves in free agency, the 2021 NHL Draft, and the Seattle Kraken expansion process. And, after Scheifele sits out one more game from that suspension, maybe we’ll see him avoid another hit like the one on Jake Evans.

(As Scheifele himself would agree, he’s not exactly racking up hits as if he’s Winnipeg’s answer to Matt Martin.)

But, considering some of the reactions to that Jets sweep, it’s unclear if they truly processed why it happened. Scheifele’s comments about his suspension don’t send the greatest messages, either.

Scheifele critiques Department of Player Safety for suspension

Echoing previous reactions, Scheifele again stated that he believed his four-game suspension was “excessive.” He insisted that he was merely trying to negate a goal, and was backchecking. Scheifele emphasized that he did “regret the outcome” of Jake Evans getting injured, but defended his hit and his “clean record.”

During Wednesday’s post-sweep press conference, Scheifele provided doozy of a quote about it.

” … Obviously, it’s crushing that my season was ended by that, and I wasn’t able to play in this series,” Scheifele said. “I thought I was going to try to be shut down by Phillip Danault, and (instead) it was the Department of Player Safety that shut me down.”

Ultimately, Scheifele’s takeaways aren’t so alarming, as he’s not someone who might blur the line like, say, a Nazem Kadri or Tom Wilson. If there are any additional reactions, maybe it was a fine Scheifele was trying to avoid.

But what about other shockwaves after the Jets come to grips with that sweep by the Canadiens?

No accident

Frankly, it might be a little naive to merely pass off the Canadiens sweeping the Jets as the byproduct of Scheifele being suspended.

Beyond the argument that the Canadiens outplayed the Jets in Game 1 (with Scheifele available until the last minute), it’s difficult to look at the lopsided on-ice play and argue that Scheifele would have tipped the scales.

By certain underlying metrics, the Canadiens dominated the Jets in historic ways during this sweep.

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In other words, when the Jets pulled off their sweep of the Oilers, you could strain an argument that it was a “close sweep.” That really wasn’t the case when the Canadiens swept the Jets.

To reiterate, we won’t really know how Jets management views this sweep until we see what moves they make during the offseason. But the players’ reactions are … interesting.

Scheifele, for instance, slammed the media for doubting the Jets late this season. Meanwhile, Adam Lowry‘s viewpoint was, uh, typical? Empty-caloried?

The real questions Jets should be asking after sweep

Look, Scheifele and his teammates can use criticisms as fuel. Print out those critiques and get that extra motivation for future workouts.

Management, however, should be soul-searching. Frankly, the Jets squandered some great seasons from Connor Hellebuyck, and you really never know how many elite seasons you’ll get from even great goalies.

Uncomfortably, the Jets’ underlying numbers have been troubling since at least the second half of the 2018-19 season. Generally speaking, they’ve leaned heavily on a mix of Hellebuyck and shooting luck (thanks to some talented forwards) to win games. That formula’s worked well enough to get into the playoffs, but Montreal’s dominant play inspires doubt about Winnipeg’s ceiling.

So, again, they should be asking tough questions.

Should they replace Paul Maurice?

For multiple seasons, the Jets have been mediocre, if not outright bad, from an analytics standpoint.

Is that all Maurice’s fault? That’s unlikely, but it’s fair to wonder if the Jets might benefit from fresh ideas (Maurice has been behind the bench since they relocated to Winnipeg in 2013-14.)

The “fancy stats” are not the only troubling element with Maurice. In a February study of Winnipeg’s systems, Jack Han wrote about disjointed tactics leading to discontent. Let’s fire off some larger questions:

  • Did the Jets fail to adjust their tactics in that sweep vs. the Canadiens?
  • Is Maurice getting the most out of players? Were there unexplored avenues to integrate Pierre-Luc Dubois more seamlessly?
  • Should Maurice absorb some blame for a stagnant Jets power play?

Can management improve things?

A natural defense of Maurice with the Jets — and really, throughout his surprisingly voluminous coaching career — is that he’s coaching a small market team. There’s not a whole lot Winnipeg can do about that.

But another defense is that the Jets’ defense never really recovered from losing Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers.

Now, you can argue that maybe a different coach would find different (maybe better?) solutions to the Jets’ personnel issues on defense. Let’s assume Maurice is optimizing things perfectly for a second, though.

Can GM Kevin Cheveldayoff give Maurice the tools needed for better future results? As Ryan Lambert discusses at EP Rinkside, it doesn’t look easy.

Yet, if it’s a lost cause, it really makes you wonder if the Jets are getting the most out of management and/or their coaching staff.

Can big names deliver more?

So, we touched on coaching and the front office. Time to finish with the third part of the blame game triumvirate: the players.

Scheifele spoke about players already part of the organization (either the Jets, or the Moose at the AHL level) getting better. Consider some circumstances, then.

  • Scheifele is still at or near his prime at age 28. Even if he doesn’t improve that backchecking, it’s unlikely the Jets will lose him at the end of a playoff series three years in a row.
  • Here’s something that might sneak up on you. Blake Wheeler is already 34. After a season of questions about his two-way play, Wheeler played well vs. the Oilers, but then went pointless during the Canadiens’ sweep of the Jets.
  • Again, Pierre-Luc Dubois did not impress, but he’s just 22. Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers (25), and Kyle Connor (24) form the youngest part of the Jets’ core.
  • Hellebuyck is an absolute steal at a $6.167M AAV, and is in the meat of his prime at 28. Still, asking him to deliver at his current level, year after year, might be dangerous. Goalies simply aren’t easy to predict.
  • Can Josh Morrissey find his game after seemingly losing it since Jacob Trouba left town? There’s hope at 26, but fear considering his recent work. Especially since it’s not just a one-year slump.

 

Will Jets, Scheifele learn right lessons from sweep, suspension? Josh Morrissey player card
via Evolving Hockey

Yikes.

Whatever the answers might be, ask tough questions

So, what should the Jets do?

Again, that hinges on perspective. Can the Jets count on a rebound from top players, or is there something systemic keeping them from shining as much as they should? Is Kevin Cheveldayoff capable of improving things if issues don’t fall on Paul Maurice?

Ultimately, Jets ownership can determine how to respond to what should be a disturbing sweep. That might start with identifying it as a problem — rather than a mere bump in the road — in the first place.

JETS VS. CANADIENS series recaps (MTL completes sweep 4-0)

Game 1: Canadiens 5, Jets 3
Game 2: Canadiens 1, Jets 0
Game 3: Canadiens 5, Jets 1
Game 4: Canadiens 3, Jets 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.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.