Winnipeg Jets: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

Winnipeg Jets: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview
Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Winnipeg Jets.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 30-23-3 (63 points), finished third in North.
• Postseason: Swept in second round by Canadiens (after Jets swept Oilers).
• Offensive leaders: Mark Scheifele (21 goals, 42 assists for 63 points in 56 games).

• Free Agent Additions: Nate Schmidt (trade from Canucks), Brenden Dillon (trade from Capitals), Riley Nash.
• Free Agent Subtractions: Laurent Brossoit (Golden Knights), Mathieu Perreault (Canadiens), Mason Appleton (Kraken expansion draft), Trevor Lewis (Flames), Derek Forbort (Bruins), Nate Thompson (Flyers), Tucker Poolman (Canucks).

Biggest question for Jets

• Will an improved defense on paper translate to a better one on the ice?

Since losing Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba, the Jets defense sunk like a stone. Sometimes, their defense boiled down to hoping Connor Hellebuyck fixed things.

During this offseason, the Jets made substantial moves to turn that around. They traded for a steady defenseman in Brenden Dillon. The Jets hope they get Golden Knights Nate Schmidt, instead of the failed Canucks version.

It’s not nice to say that waving goodbye to Tucker Poolman and Derek Forbort is “addition by subtraction.” It could be accurate, though.

Speaking of additions and subtractions, the Jets also dodged a bullet at the expansion draft. To the Jets’ relief, they avoided losing underrated blueliner Dylan DeMelo.

[PHT’s offseason trade tracker]

So, yeah, the 2021-22 Jets look better on defense. At least, they do on paper.

Truly, the 2021-22 season could be quite the test for longtime Jets coach Paul Maurice. Credit it acumen, a gift for gab, or other factors, but the fellow has a knack for hanging around.

Of course, one of the common defenses of Maurice’s longevity is that he’s lacked proper personnel. That argument could ring hollow with the 2021-22 Jets.

Much could hinge on a holdover, and a new face.

Since Jacob Trouba left town, Josh Morrissey simply hasn’t been the same. Morrissey’s descent parallels the Jets’ defensive dropoff, overall. Consider this SPAR (Standing Points Above Replacement) chart for his career, via Evolving Hockey:

Winnipeg Jets: 2021-22 NHL Season Preview Morrissey SPAR Evo
via Evolving Hockey

And, while one can imagine Nate Schmidt being a shot in the arm, it’s not a guarantee.

Recent renditions of the Canucks boasted the sort of lousy team defense the 2021-22 Jets hope to avoid. What if Schmidt fares no better with Winnipeg than he did with Vancouver?

It’s also fair to mention that the 2021-22 Jets’ defense faces some losses.

Avoiding losing DeMelo was worth it, but Mason Appleton could be missed. And, while Mathieu Perreault’s getting older, he’s still an analytics darling.

The biggest worry might be that the Jets lost a Connor Hellebuyck insurance plan in Laurent Brossoit. What if, right as the Jets get better on defense, Hellebuyck hits a wall in 2021-22?

[Jets bet on defense making life easier for Hellebuyck]

Since 2017-18, Connor Hellebuyck played by-far the most games of any goalie (233). Andrei Vasilevskiy ranks second at 212, and only six goalies played 200+ games. Those weren’t leisurely strolls, either. Hellebuyck easily faced the most shots (7,230), with Vasilevskiy again a distant second (6,630). Only six goalies faced 6,000+ shots since 2017-18, too.

Ideally, the Jets make life easier for Hellebuyck, who remains dominant in 2021-22. (After all, he’s just 28. And, worries or not, he’s my Vezina pick.)

Overall, the Jets do look improved on defense in 2021-22. There’s plenty of work to do, however.

What’s the salary cap situation?

The Jets enter 2021-22 as a team nudging against the salary cap ceiling. Looking at their roster, there’s an interesting mix of good and bad.

The good

  • Some core forwards are on very nice deals — especially Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor, but also Mark Scheifele.
  • All above quibbles about workload aside, Hellebuyck is a steal at $6.1667M. Honestly, it probably deserves more mentions among the NHL’s best contracts. (Also, uh, $6,166,666 sure is an … interesting number.)

The bad

  • At 35, Blake Wheeler‘s $8.25M cap hit isn’t ideal, and it runs through 2023-24.
  • Morrissey can turn things around; he’s merely 26. Until then, his long-term deal evokes cringe emojis.
  • Bryan Little‘s contract looked bad in 2017, and keeps getting worse.

The unclear

  • Between Morrissey, Schmidt, DeMelo, Neal Pionk, and Dillon, the Jets are investing almost $25M in cap space on defensemen. None of those five contracts are shorter than three seasons. Overall, it’s an upgrade — but could we be getting lured in by any hint of an improvement, based on just how bad they’ve been? Those investments could look far less impressive if the group trends closer to “meh.”
  • How good is Pierre-Luc Dubois, really? The Jets seek answers in 2021-22, as his $5M salary cap hit expires. He’s a pending RFA, and arbitration eligible. That could become a tricky situation.

[PHT’s 2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

Credit the Jets for constructing a competitive roster in a market that’s not exactly Bryzgalov-approved. Lesser front offices would ice a roster full of desperate, ugly contracts.

Still, a lot of this team is locked-in. If the Jets underwhelm in 2021-22, that oulook won’t be as sunny.

Here’s to the Jets rebounding in 2021-22, instead. Wouldn’t it be nice if a team once on the rise found its wings once more?

Breakout Candidate

• Nikolaj Ehlers

Typically, this is a spot for a younger, less-proven player. But, in Ehlers’ case, we celebrate that critically acclaimed indie band finally topping the charts and selling out arenas.

The charts don’t just explain that hipster-style love. Frankly, just watch Nikolaj Ehlers. Chances are, his speed and daring will leave you entranced. He aces “the eye test” as much as he racks up robust fancy stats.

Now we just need the Jets to believe their eyes.

Last season, he only ranked fifth among Jets forwards in power-play ice time. Even worse, Ehlers only managed the sixth-highest average for ice time overall (16:55). Honestly, some of the Paul Maurice doubt lingers because of a relative reluctance to truly embrace Ehlers.

Expect those rumblings to turn into a roar. In 2021-22, the Jets and the rest of the hockey world can finally realize just how special Ehlers is.

(Cole Perfetti would be the more traditional breakout choice, but he may not be a full-time member of the 2021-22 Jets.)

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Jets

All of those defensive improvements don’t just boost the Jets in their own zone. Suddenly, Jets forwards don’t have to do so much legwork, and their all-around play improves. Behind a sturdier defense, Hellebuyck removes all doubt that he is the best goalie in the world. With a strong playoff push, the Jets regain their status as a team on the rise.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Jets

Those defensive changes don’t amount to much. And, this time, Hellebuyck can’t save the day. Years of red flags about all-around play end up being grim, accurate prophecies. Worse yet, a long-standing front office faces no real consequences, and doesn’t learn any meaningful lessons. The Jets miss the playoffs, and don’t even get a high first-rounder for their trouble.

PointsbetWinnipeg Jets Stanley Cup odds

+4000 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

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

Scroll Down For:

    Dellandrea scores twice in 3rd, Stars stay alive with 4-2 victory over Golden Knights

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS — With Dallas’ season on the line, the Stars got two critical goals from a player who was a healthy scratch the first two games of the Western Conference Final.

    Ty Dellandrea‘s goals came within a 1:27 span midway through the third period, and the Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final to face the Florida Panthers.

    “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” said Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 27 saves. “He deserves every opportunity he gets, and there’s no one happier for him than the guys in this room. It shows how special you are when you get taken out. He didn’t make it about him. He needed the opportunity to step up, and that’s what he did.”

    The Stars escaped elimination for the second game in a row and head to Dallas for Game 6 down 3-2. Dallas is attempting to become the fifth team in NHL history to win a series after being down 3-0.

    And look who’s back for the Stars? Captain Jamie Benn returns after a two-game suspension for his cross-check to the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in Game 3. That was the only game in this series that was decided early, and the Stars hadn’t even had a multigoal lead.

    “I know our group, and we weren’t happy about being in the hole we were in, and they decided to do something about it,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “And now we’re rolling.”

    The only problem for DeBoer was waiting two days to play Game 6.

    “Drop the puck,” he said.

    DeBoer said before the game if his team won, the pressure would shift to the Knights. Now it’s up to them to respond after twice being a period away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final and letting both opportunities slip away.

    “I don’t think we brought our best the last two games,” Stone said. “We were still in a good spot to win the game. We’ve got to bring a little bit better effort and start playing a little more desperate.”

    Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said “it’s a very good question” why his team didn’t play with more desperation, but he also wasn’t thrilled with the Knights’ execution.

    “We had 24 giveaways,” Cassidy said. “I’m not sure you’re beating the Arizona Coyotes in January with 24 giveaways. That’s no disrespect to Arizona, but it’s not the right way to play.”

    Dellandrea found the right way to play and put together the first multigoal playoff game of his career. Jason Robertson and Luke Glendening also scored, and Thomas Harley had two assists.

    Chandler Stephenson and Ivan Barbashev scored for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had two assists to extend his points streak to four games. Adin Hill made 30 saves.

    Dellandrea scored from the right circle to put Dallas ahead, the puck deflecting off Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with 9:25 left for a 3-2 lead. Then, Dellandrea scored from the slot with 7:58 remaining.

    Dellandrea said the older players kept him motivated when he was temporarily sidelined.

    “There’s no denying it’s hard,” he said. “I’m thankful for a good group of character guys, and you’ve just got to stay ready.”

    The teams traded goals in the first two periods.

    Jack Eichel battled two Stars players for the puck in Vegas’ offensive zone, and then Barbashev swooped in and made a fantastic move to glide past Oettinger and score with 6:24 left in the first period. The Stars wasted little time in answering when Glendening scored on a deflection less than two minutes later.

    Dallas was robbed of what looked like a sure goal when Hill snagged a point-blank shot from Roope Hintz, who then threw his back in disbelief.

    Like in the first period, the Knights had a goal in the second quickly answered by one from the Stars. Stephenson scored from the left circle at 16:40 of the period, and Robertson knocked his own rebounds 2:09 later to make it 2-2. Stephenson tied the Knights’ record with his eight playoff goal this year, and Robertson had his fifth of the series.

    Sabres sign Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnston to 2-year rookie contract

    Getty Images

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres ended a lengthy wait by signing Ryan Johnston to a two-year, entry level contract more than a month after the defenseman completed his senior college season at Minnesota.

    Johnston will report immediately to the Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, whose best-of-seven Eastern Conference final playoff series against Hershey is tied at 1.

    From Southern California, Johnston is listed at 6-feet and 170 pounds and was selected 31st in 2019 draft.

    His puck-moving skills fit Buffalo’s style of play, Johnston finished his college career with nine goals and 59 points in 143 career games, including four goals and 18 points in 40 games this year. He reached the NCAA’s Frozen Four in each of his final two seasons, with the Gophers losing in the semifinals last year, followed by a 3-2 overtime loss to Quinnipiac in the championship game last month.

    He also had a goal and three assists in seven games representing the U.S. team that won gold at the 2021 world junior championships.

    Johnston, who turns 22 in July, had the option to wait until August when he would’ve become an unrestricted free agent and eligible to sign with any team. Because Johnston was first-round pick, the Sabres would’ve been compensated with a 2024 second-round selection had he signed elsewhere.

    Both sides are banking on the player’s age and college experience to enable Johnston to make the jump to the NHL within the next two seasons. The Sabres will still control Johnston’s rights as a restricted free agent once his entry-level contract expires.

    Joe Pavelski scores on OT power play, Stars beat Golden Knights 3-2 to avoid West sweep

    stars golden knights
    Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

    DALLAS — Joe Pavelski admits that he probably appreciates the big playoff goals more the later he gets in his career. But they all still feel just as good, and his latest kept the season alive for the Dallas Stars.

    “Just really living in the moment,” Pavelski said. “A tremendous feeling for sure, and glad we could play another game, and go from there and try to extend it.”

    The 38-year-old Pavelski scored on a power play at 3:18 of overtime – a one-timer from the middle of the left circle to the far post – and the Stars avoided a sweep in the Western Conference Final with a 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Jason Robertson scored twice for his first career multigoal playoff game for Dallas, which played without suspended captain Jamie Benn.

    “We’re looking for goals and that’s kind of my responsibility I put on myself,” Robertson said. “I know these playoffs have been tough. … I was able to get the bounces that we needed tonight.”

    Jake Oettinger had 37 saves, two nights after the 24-year-old Stars goalie was pulled 7:10 into Game 3 after allowing three goals on five shots.

    The Stars had the man advantage in overtime after Brayden McNabb‘s high-sticking penalty on Ty Dellandrea. Fifty seconds into the power play, Pavelski scored on a pass from Miro Heiskanen. They won for the first time in their five OT games this postseason – Vegas won the first two games of this series past regulation.

    It was only the second Vegas penalty of the game, both high-sticking calls against McNabb. His penalty on Pavelski late in the first period set up the power play when Robertson scored his first goal with some nifty stickwork.

    Pavelski, in his 15th NHL season and still looking for his first Stanley Cup, scored his ninth goal in 12 games this postseason, but his first in five games. He has 73 career postseason goals – the most for U.S.-born players and the most among all active players.

    “He’s ageless. … I’ve seen that movie over and over again. Never gets old,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “He lives for those moments and he wants to be in those situations. Always has, and delivers almost every time.”

    Benn was suspended two games by the NHL on Wednesday for his cross-check with his stick landing near the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in the first two minutes of Game 3 on Tuesday night. Benn also will miss Game 5 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

    William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault scored for Vegas. Adin Hill had his five-game winning streak snapped. He made 39 saves, including a game-saver with his extended left leg without about two minutes left in regulation on rookie Fredrik Olofsson’s swiping try in his first career playoff game.

    “Our effort wasn’t good enough. Closing a series is probably the hardest game in a series, right, so it just wasn’t good enough from our group,” Marchessault said. “It was still a one-goal game in overtime. It was right there for us.”

    Karlsson and Marchessault are among six of the original Vegas players still on the team from the inaugural 2017-18 season that ended with the Knights playing for the Stanley Cup, though they lost in five games to the Washington Capitals after winning the first game.

    Vegas missed a chance to complete a sweep, a night after the Florida Panthers finished off a sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.

    Vegas took a 2-1 lead midway through the second period when Marchessault, after whacking his stick on the back of Ryan Suter in front of the net, scored on a pass between the Stars defenseman’s legs from McNabb, another original Golden Knight.

    Robertson’s tying goal late in that period came on a ricochet off the back board just seconds after he had another shot hit the post. That was the fourth goal of this series, and sixth in the playoffs, after this regular season becoming the first Dallas player with a 100-point season.

    On his first goal late in the first that tied it 1-1, Robertson deflected Heiskanen’s shot from just inside the blue line up into the air. As Hill was trying to secure the puck into his glove, Robertson knocked it free and then reached around and swiped the puck into the net with his stick parallel to the ice.

    With former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and wrestling great Ric Flair both in the building wearing Stars jerseys Dallas was avoided being swept in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 against St. Louis in the second round. This was the Stars’ 21st playoff series since then.

    The Golden Knights scored first again – though not like those three quick goals in Game 3 that led to the earliest exit ever for Oettinger.

    Karlsson pushed the puck up and skated to the front of the net after passing to Nicolas Roy, whose pass through traffic went off a Dallas stick before Reilly Smith got it just inside the right circle and took a shot. Karlsson’s deflection past Oettinger only 4:17 into the game was his eighth goal this postseason.

    “There were a lot of rush chances,” said Smith, also with Vegas since the beginning. “I don’t think we did a good enough job of making it difficult on them. So we get another opportunity in two days.”

    Tkachuk sends Panthers to Stanley Cup Final, after topping Hurricanes 4-3 for sweep

    panthers stanley cup final
    Sam Navarro/USA TODAY Sports

    SUNRISE, Fla. — Matthew Tkachuk delivered for Florida, again. Sergei Bobrovsky denied Carolina, again.

    The wait is over: After 27 years, the Florida Panthers – a hockey punchline no more – are again going to play for the game’s grandest prize.

    Tkachuk got his second goal of the game with 4.9 seconds left, lifting the Panthers past the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 and into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996 after sweeping the Eastern Conference final.

    The Panthers will play either Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting sometime next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference title series 3-0.

    “This was pure joy,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

    Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap his stellar series – four games, four one-goal wins, three of them basically in sudden death, a .966 save percentage after stopping 174 of the 180 shots he faced. The first two wins were in overtime, and this one may as well have been.

    The Panthers scored 10 goals in the series, and Bobrovsky ensured those were all they needed. They were the No. 8 seed, the last team in, the longest of long shots – which is consistent with their history, after not winning a single playoff series in 26 years, a drought that ended last season.

    And now, beasts of the East. Tkachuk arrived last summer saying he wanted to bring Florida a Cup. He’s four wins away.

    “It’s amazing,” Bobrovsky said. “We showed the resilience … and we’re lucky to have Chucky on our side. He knows how to score big goals.”

    NHL Senior Vice President Brian Jennings was the one tasked with presenting the Prince of Wales Trophy. After some photos, Aleksander Barkov – the captain who had two assists, one of them on the game-winner – grabbed it, and skated it away. Some teams touch it. Some don’t. A few of the Panthers did, but Barkov didn’t pass it around.

    That’ll wait for the big prize.

    “It’s hard to explain right now. Everything just happened so quick,” Barkov said. “It means a lot. It definitely does. … It hasn’t been easy and nobody said it’s going to be easy.”

    Added Tkachuk: “We earned that thing, and definitely didn’t do it the easy way. We earned it.”

    Ryan Lomberg and Anthony Duclair had the other goals for Florida, which swept a series for the first time in franchise history.

    Jordan Staal – his brothers Eric and Marc play for the Panthers – took a tripping penalty with 57 seconds left in regulation, setting up the power-play that Tkachuk finished off after getting into the slot and beating Frederik Andersen to set off a wild celebration.

    “Eastern Conference champions,” Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “It’s really cool. No doubt about it. But you know, at the end of the day, we have our eyes on something different.”

    Toy rats – the Panthers’ tradition, a nod to the unwanted locker room guests from Florida’s old arena in 1996 – sailed down from the stands, and the goal needed to survive an official review. But the rats were picked up, the goal was deemed good, and 27 years of waiting was officially over 4.9 seconds later.

    Jesper Fast seemed like he might have saved the season for Carolina, getting a tying goal with 3:22 left in regulation. Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen had the first two goals of the night for the Hurricanes, while Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook each had two assists. Andersen stopped 21 shots.

    “Everyone’s going to say, ‘You got swept.’ That’s not what happened,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I watched the game. I’m there. I’m cutting the games. We’re in the game. We didn’t lose four games. We got beat, but we were right there. This could have went the other way. It could have been four games the other way.”

    That wasn’t sour grapes. He was right. A bounce here, a bounce there, a Bobrovsky not here, a Bobrovsky not there, and this series could have gone much differently.

    But Bob was his best. Tkachuk was clutch, over and over. And Florida is as close to a Cup as it has ever been; the Panthers were swept by Colorado in the 1996 final.

    Towels waved, strobe lights flashed, and the fans wasted no time letting the Panthers know that they were ready to a clincher.

    Tkachuk made it 2-0 on the power play midway through the first. Carolina – a 113-point, division-championship-winning team in the regular season – made it 2-1 later in the first on Stastny’s goal, and Teravainen tied it early in the second.

    Lomberg’s goal midway through the second gave Florida the lead again. It stayed that way until Fast got the equalizer with 3:22 left, and then Tkachuk finished it off – getting the Panthers to the title round in his first season.

    “It’s been unbelievable since July since I got here,” Tkachuk said. “And hopefully we can cap off this amazing year.”


    Panthers general manager Bill Zito was announced earlier Wednesday as a finalist for NHL GM of the year. … Tkachuk’s two goals gave him 21 points in the playoffs – extending his Florida single-season postseason record, which was 17 by Dave Lowry in 1996. … Slavin was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game after Bennett’s hit, with what the Hurricanes said was “an upper-body injury.” Slavin wobbled as he tried to get to his feet. … Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel – who has also been a regular at Miami Heat games during their playoff run this spring – banged the drum before the game. When done, without a mic to drop, he simply dropped the mallet instead.


    Tkachuk’s goal midway through the opening period put Florida up 2-0 – and marked the first time, in nearly 14 periods of play to that point, that a team had a two-goal lead in this series. Every bit of action came with the score tied or someone up by one in the first 272 minutes (including all the overtimes) of the series.