As Jets’ playoff hopes fade, focus shifts to important off-season

jets off-season
Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Mathematically, the Winnipeg Jets have “hope.” Realistically, eyes should be turning to the off-season and what needs to change.

Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Red Wings was Winnipeg’s third defeat in a row. It’s been a familiar refrain this season. Win a game, lose multiple. Win a few, lose that momentum by dropping one.

By mid-November the Jets were off a 9-3-3 start. Then there was the 10-3-1 start from the end of February to the end of March. But too many valuable points were dropped and those around them in the Western Conference playoff race moved ahead. Winnipeg is currently eight points behind the Stars for the second Wild Card spot with 11 games to play and their Friday opponent is the Avalanche. MoneyPuck’s model give them a 0.2% chance to make the playoffs.

Coaching for his job, interim head coach Dave Lowry is trying to keep heads up.

“There is belief,” Lowry said Thursday morning. “You still have to believe you have a chance. Until they say you’re officially eliminated you have a chance. We still have that belief. You can see it in just how the guys came in today. We had some jump and we had some life in practice.

“There was a lot of disappointment last night after the game. That shows that they care. I said that last night. There is a lot of care in that room and there is a lot of pride in that room. We know we’re going to have to do things and we’re going to have to be really good tomorrow.”

There’s been a coaching change, players sniping with the media, and the trade of Andrew Copp to deal with this season. It’s been frustrating year, one that can be traced back to the Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs where the Jets were swept by the Canadiens and had to deal with the Mark Scheifele suspension. This was supposed to be a year to take a step forward, but it’s become one where a refresh is needed.

Fixing the defense

One area that’s clearly in need of freshening up is the blue line. The Jets have given away the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances (725) and have the 10th-most scoring chances allowed (1,689) at 5-on-5, via Natural Stat Trick.

As HockeyViz’s data shows, opposing teams have made the front of the Jets’ net home:

HockeyViz.com

“Defensively that’s an area obviously we have to get better at,” said defenseman Josh Morrissey. “I think it’s something that when we’ve played well here, it’s been a focus of ours. It kind of goes hand in hand with our success a lot of nights. That’s definitely an area we have to be better. We have to improve in a lot of areas and that’s one of them.”

Connor Hellebuyck has been the savior for the Jets on many nights, but he can’t do it alone. His 5-on-5 save percentage hasn’t changed much from last season (.925 to .922), but his goals saved above average has dropped from 0.93 to negative-2.28 this season.

Making it work

If defense is an area general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is targeting, improvements will likely have to come via the way of good old hockey trades. The Jets have five regular defenseman signed through 2023-24 and Josh Morrissey, Nate Schmidt, and Neal Pionk tied up longer. Schmidt and Brendan Dillon have struggled, and you wonder if they are washed or if better coaching could squeeze some valuable juice out the final few seasons of their deals.

According to Cap Friendly, Cheveldayoff will have a little over $16 million in salary cap space at the moment, which includes next season’s $1 million bump in the cap ceiling. Pierre-Luc Dubois needs to be re-signed as a restricted free agent and we’ll see what they want to do with Paul Stastny, who can be unrestricted.

What can’t happen is the Jets wasting prime years for Hellebuyck, Morrissey, Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, and Kyle Connor. Maybe someone in that group is moved this summer in order to facilitate improvement elsewhere. It won’t just be Cheveldayoff throwing money at free agents, which has never really been the GM’s modus operandi anyway.

Eventually, the Jets will need to take that next step. They’re in a very competitive division, but Cheveldayoff has been at the helm since the 2011 move from Atlanta and the franchise has won only four games beyond the First Round. Spring has delivered disappointment year after year, and this should be the one to finally spur effective change.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Scroll Down For:

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

    Chase Agnello-Dean/Getty Images
    0 Comments

    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

    mark stone surgery
    Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
    2 Comments

    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

    brunette dui
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
    1 Comment

    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”