After the Jets missed the playoffs, center Mark Scheifele raised eyebrows when asked about his future with the team. He uttered phrases such as “I just have to understand where this team is going” and “I have to think about my career and what’s going to be best for me.”
Some took those early May Scheifele comments as more than a hint about wanting a trade from the Jets.
Yet, in a follow-up May 7 edition of “32 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman noted that Scheifele did not request a trade from the Jets.
What about the Jets’ perspective on a Scheifele trade? At the Scouting Combine, eternal Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger that he expects Scheifele to return to the team for the 2022-23 season.
“Yeah, I do,” Cheveldayoff told Zeisberger recently. “My exit interview with Mark went well. Again, it was an emotional time for everybody. We asked [our players] to wear their emotions in the exits, and I think they were very productive.”
Now, if we’ve learned anything from GMs like Marc Bergevin, these situations can turn on a dime. (Or, you know, they were just hiding a future move.)
Yet, despite being named the Jets, Winnipeg’s NHL team moves about as rapidly as molasses. So it’s reasonable to believe that there’s a decent chance the Jets will not trade Scheifele.
Here’s why that’s reasonable enough, but there are also a ton of questions about “where this team is going.”
The good and bad with Mark Scheifele
When it comes to Scheifele and other Jets players, it’s striking just how extreme their underlying numbers are. We’re talking about the sort of strong offense that produces elite scoring numbers (Scheifele’s been a point-per-game player essentially since 2016-17). Unfortunately, Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and other top Jets offensive players give up just about as much as they produce.
Most knew Blake Wheeler's underlying defensive stats have been shaky for a while. It's especially jarring to see how identically Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele struggled this season, though. Even Nikolaj Ehlers didn't come out unscathed this season (via @EvolvingHockey) pic.twitter.com/B4kEbX8Q4h
— James O'Brien 📎 (@cyclelikesedins) April 27, 2022
Going year-by-year with Scheifele and others, there have been some troubling underlying numbers for four campaigns. With Scheifele on the ice at 5-on-5, the Jets have controlled 45.22% or fewer of the high-danger chances the past four seasons, and they’ve been under 50% in scoring chances and expected goals.
Scheifele’s skill makes up some difference (the Jets have more or less broke even in 5-on-5 goals for and against during that span), but you’d hope for better results from top players.
To be clear, the blame doesn’t lie on Scheifele’s shoulders alone. Again, Connor’s numbers are remarkably similar, and lately, Wheeler’s offense has been sinking.
Is it all worth it? I’d still say yes.
Consider The Athletic’s “market value” readings in their Player Cards as one example. That estimate places Scheifele’s “value” at $7.9 million, so even in tough times, he still “beats” his $6.125M cap hit.
There’s some key questions, though:
- How much are Connor and Scheifele “cheating” on defense to create offense? If, say, Barry Trotz coached this team, could they gain a better balance?
- Would Scheifele, Ehlers, and others be the type of players Trotz might sour on?
Now, ponder the Jets’ salary cap situation, which provides the clearest argument against a Scheifele trade — for now.
Jets’ salary cap situation justifies avoiding a Scheifele trade (this offseason)
Structurally, the Jets could get away with giving their core a two-year window. However, if you want to thread the needle between being proactive and not overreacting, then maybe you view 2022-23 as a make-or-break for this core.
Scheifele is 29, and his $6.125M cap hit expires after 2023-24. Flawed or not, it’s easier to imagine him delivering value to the Jets by sticking around, rather than whatever they’d receive in a trade-low scenario.
Crucially, Connor Hellebuyck (also 29) carries almost the same cap hit ($6.16667M) for two more seasons. On the Hellebuyck trade rumbling front, he indicated he’s on board as long as this isn’t a rebuild.
Nikolaj Ehlers, 26, is sorely underrated, and a nice bargain at $6M for three more seasons. The Jets face an RFA challenge with Pierre-Luc Dubois, but it makes sense to at least stall with the 23-year-old.
Ideally, the Jets would hope a coaching change could optimize a skilled, reasonably cost-efficient core of Hellebuyck, Ehlers, Connor, Dubois, Josh Morrissey, and possibly Scheifele.
Beyond begging Barry Trotz to clean this up (or, uh, hoping for the best with … Scott Arniel?), the Jets could conceivably make some other moves to shake things up. Do note that the Jets seemingly only shake things up when they have to, such as when people resign.
Jets moves that likely make more sense than a Scheifele trade
Over the last few years, the Jets have squandered Hellebuyck’s elite goaltending, yet he’s still a massive bargain through 2023-24. After that, all bets are off.
Blake Wheeler’s a thorny subject. In two different articles worth reading, the Athletic’s Murat Ates:
- Fielded a mailbag question about there being some tension between Wheeler and Scheifele.
- In a different article, Ates indicated that Wheeler’s status as a longtime Jets fixture would make a trade unlikely.
Starting this offseason, Blake Wheeler’s contract goes from having a no-movement clause to merely a five-team no-trade list.
Trading Wheeler may require “bribing” a partner with picks and/or prospects. Again, it might be too thorny a political move from a Jets organization with a weak stomach for bold moves.
The years haven’t been kind to the 35-year-old, though, and moving that $8.25M could really open up options.
If that’s a no-go, his contract also lasts two more years. Theoretically, that money could go to raises for Scheifele and/or Hellebuyck. So there’s that, at least.
Beyond Scheifele, Wheeler, and Dubois, the Jets face other offseason questions. Their backup situation isn’t totally clear. Mason Appleton ranks among their lower free agents (beyond Dubois), while Paul Stastny is a UFA at age 36.
There are a lot of different ways things can go for the Jets. While there’s an argument for blowing things up, and a Scheifele trade could accelerate a rebuild, the Jets may be better off hoping they can get more out of players like him.