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No timetable for return of Jets’ Byfuglien

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Overall, it’s bad news that there’s no timetable for the return of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who is once again injured with a lower-body injury.

It’s a different lower-body ailment for Byfuglien, who isn’t that far removed from missing 15 games thanks to that last injury. The Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre reports that Byfuglien isn’t traveling with the Jets for their upcoming three-game road trip, and that he’ll be assessed again in a week. This is a negative update, as the early outlook was that Byfuglien wouldn’t miss much time.

Considering Byfuglien’s mammoth size, and the fact that he’s 33, I can’t help but wonder if the Jets are just going to need to make peace with injuries being a more frequent occurrence. Really, it’s remarkable that this hasn’t been a larger problem during Byfuglien’s career, as it almost defies logic that a human this large can mix mobility, grace, and violence in such an effective way.

But, really, consider the wear-and-tear.

Via Hockey Reference’s numbers, Byfuglien’s delivered 1,885 hits and blocked 781 shots over 864 regular-season games, and that doesn’t include playoff numbers. He’s accrued a lot of mileage as a menacing, high-usage defenseman, and maybe that’s truly adding up, although Byfuglien has been dynamite when he can play, generating an impressive 30 points in just 37 games in 2018-19.

Whether you look at his impact from a leadership or production standpoint, Byfuglien will clearly be missed.

That said, there are some silver linings, even if you have to squint your eyes a bit to see them.

The Jets can pivot trade deadline plans, if they feel it’s necessary.

Personally, if I were Kevin Cheveldayoff, I would still be more focused on strengthening the weak spot that is 2C, whether that means aiming for Matt Duchene or a less costly target such as Kevin Hayes. (Both are discussed in the latest 31 Thoughts column by Elliotte Friedman.)

Either way, the Jets have some clarity that Byfuglien will miss at least some time. Maybe that means going after a defenseman (right-handed or not) instead of a scorer, or perhaps Winnipeg will deem it worthwhile to go for both assets. If nothing else, it’s helpful that Byfuglien suffered this injury before the trade deadline, rather than after it.

Time to test other options.

The Jets get a little time to see who might be able to raise their games. Personally, I’d be most intrigued by Sami Niku. The 22-year-old hasn’t fared particularly well in limited work during 13 NHL games (12 this season), but his AHL numbers and strong word of mouth give the impression that the future is bright. Maybe he can show that such projections don’t need to be that far ahead?

Niku is a left-handed shot, while Byfuglien is a right-handed shot, but the Jets have had a bit of a glut of RHD, as we’ve seen from Buffy and Tyler Myers sometimes siphoning away opportunities from Jacob Trouba.

Both Trouba and Myers are on expiring $5.5 million cap hits, and it’s almost certain one will be gone after 2018-19, if not both considering Winnipeg’s impending cap crunch.

Getting a better idea of where Niku, Tucker Poolman, and other defensemen can fit into the mix could help Cheveldayoff make more informed decisions during the offseason.

Let the big guy rest.

The hidden benefit of injuries is that they often force workhorse players to take a breather.

As mentioned up top, Byfuglien’s been through a ton of battles. While Winnipeg likely wants to strengthen its already comfortable grip on the Central Division crown, the Jets should prioritize heading into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as healthy as possible.

Really, the Jets might want to consider resting other players alongside Buffy, particularly Blake Wheeler, who’s played a lot of hockey in his own right at age 32.

***

Again, this is bad news overall. That’s especially true if Byfuglien won’t be 100 percent by April.

Still, the Jets are in a good position to absorb this loss, and maybe gather some helpful intel in the process.

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.

Laine’s cold streak isn’t only warning sign for Jets

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Search Patrik Laine‘s name and you’ll see a lot of pessimism lately, and that makes sense.

After all, the Finnish winger is ice-cold, to the point that you can slice and dice his numbers in a wide variety of unflattering ways, at least if you make sure to skate past the whole “18 goals in November” thing.

The takes really hit a boiling point after possibly Laine’s lowest point as an NHL player. While the Winnipeg Jets managed a 4-3 shootout win against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, Laine only logged 10:55 of ice time, and again — that’s in a game that included a full five-minute overtime of 3-on-3 action. (That “free hockey” accounted for 52 seconds of Laine’s ice time.)

That ice time marks the second-lowest of Laine’s career, but his worst was a game cut short by injuries, so this was the harshest “coach’s decision” the sniper’s faced yet.

The Winnipeg Sun’s Ted Wyman wonders if that tough game was a “wakeup call,” one that might even merit a healthy scratch, and he’s far from the only person cringing at Laine’s numbers.

No doubt about it, the Jets need to make sure that Laine is focused and confident with the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs not much more than two months away.

Is it possible, though, that Laine’s struggles distract from some issues for the Jets? Winnipeg isn’t necessarily in a crisis, but there are some things to consider.

While that trio is dominant, Laine isn’t exactly riding with high-end scorers. During the last month or so, he’s mostly been skating with Bryan Little (a decent but unspectacular center) and Jack Roslovic (an intriguing but unfinished talent). It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if the Jets would be wise to move Little or Roslovic off that combination in favor of Mathieu Perreault, a long-underrated play driver who has played at center in the past.

Either way, it’s clear that injured winger Nikolaj Ehlers is missed, whether Ehlers would line up with Wheeler and Scheifele (allowing Connor to boost Laine), or if Ehlers could join up with Laine.

  • The Jets aren’t lighting opponents up possession-wise.

Perhaps Winnipeg is coasting through the season while saving that “extra gear” for the postseason, but they’re not necessarily dominant by certain measures.

Before that Bruins game, Money Puck tweeted that the Jets have been looking like an “average team” at times in 2018-19, and that they were stronger according to the same expected goals metrics last season. Looking at Natural Stat Trick, Winnipeg is middle-of-the-pack by a variety of standards, including Corsi and Fenwick. They can’t explain it away by “shot quality” alone, as they’re middling in high-danger scoring chances, too.

Again, this isn’t to say that the Jets are a “paper tiger.” There’s plenty of talent on hand, and this team’s also dealt with substantial injuries to the likes of Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien.

That said …

  • They might indeed want to spend at the trade deadline.

On Monday, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun postulated that there might be something of an arms race between the Jets and the Nashville Predators during the deadline (sub required).

Winnipeg was happy with the addition of Paul Stastny last season, and there have been murmurs about Derick Brassard, but this could be a time for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to gamble a bit.

For one thing, this team may very well need a bigger boost than you’d think, at least considering some of the struggles depicted in their underlying numbers.

Really, though, this might be the Jets’ best chance. Both Laine and Connor are due significant raises with their rookie contracts set to expire after this season, and Jacob Trouba needs a new deal as an RFA, too. Much like the Maple Leafs, things could really start to get tight for the Jets once they pay some of their brilliant young players — and they might lose some key ones in the process.

Cap Friendly projects the Jets’ deadline cap space at about $26.45 million. They should spend as much of it as ownership will allow.

***

Again, this situation is far from “doom and gloom,” as the Jets are set to be a competitive team for some time. Maybe some of their sneaky (possession stats) and headline-grabbing (Laine slump) issues could actually inspire this patient franchise to go bold, and possibly win big in the process?

Ultimately, Winnipeg’s challenges – and ambitions – could really spice things up during the trade deadline. Again.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers host Jets on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning lead the NHL with 76 points, the Western Conference has a tighter race at the top, especially in the Central Division, where Winnipeg currently owns the top spot and has four games in hand on the second-place Nashville Predators.

The Jets are currently on pace for 109 points and 52 wins. Last season, the team set franchise records in both wins (52) and points (114), but they still didn’t win the division (Nashville did w/ NHL-best 117 pts).

All-Stars Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are top two on the team in points at 61 and 59, respectively. Kyle Connor is next with 38. Wheeler, tied for ninth in the NHL in points, is second in the league in assists (52) and although his streak of 20-goal seasons may end at five given he has only nine goals, he’s on pace for 104 points, which would be a career high and break Marian Hossa’s franchise record of 100.

In addition to the All-Star break, both teams are coming off their bye weeks, each having last played on Saturday, Jan. 19.

One of the bottom-dwellers of the Eastern Conference, the Flyers sit 14 points back of a playoff spot and are on track to continue their trend of missing the postseason the year after making it. From 1995-2012, the Flyers made the playoffs 16 times in a 17-season span. Since then, Philly has made just three postseasons in the last six years and each in alternating years.

Wayne Simmonds, a popular name in trade talks ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline, has played in all 48 games this season and put up 15 goals but just 23 points. He’s on track for his sixth straight season with 24-plus goals but only 39 points, which would be his fewest in a full season since 2011.

The Flyers are 7-8-2 since interim coach Scott Gordon took over for Dave Hakstol. The coaching change was one of several moves in what has been a tumultuous season for the team that has also included letting go of GM Ron Hextall and replacing him with Chuck Fletcher.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Winnipeg Jets at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wells Fargo Center
When: Monday, Jan. 28, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Jets-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

JETS
Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Patrik LaineBryan LittleJack Roslovic
Mathieu PerreaultAdam LowryBrandon Tanev
Brendan LemieuxAndrew CoppMason Appleton

Josh MorrisseyJacob Trouba
Dmitry KulikovTyler Myers
Joe Morrow – Sami Niku

Starting goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

FLYERS
James van RiemsdykClaude GirouxTravis Konecny
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Scott LaughtonNolan Patrick – Wayne Simmonds
Phil Varone – Mikhail Vorobyev – Michael Raffl

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbehereAndrew MacDonald
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

NHL Injury roundup: Updates on Byfuglien, Hall, Schultz and Karlsson

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Now we will take a quick look around the NHL at some of the significant injury situations and where they stand as the league comes out of the All-Star break this week. 

Byfuglien getting closer, but not expected to play this week

Dustin Byfuglien has not been in the Winnipeg Jets lineup since the end of December, and while he is expected to return to the ice this week for practice he is not expected to play in any of the team’s three games and did not accompany the team on its upcoming two-game road trip.

The Jets are in Philadelphia and Boston on Monday and Tuesday before returning home to play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

Jets coach Paul Maurice was asked on Sunday if there is any possibility that Byfuglien could return for that Thursday game and seemed to downplay the chances of it.

“I’m gonna say no because I haven’t seen him skate yet,” said Maurice, via Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. “If he comes out and he’s flying around we’d consider it. I don’t expect him to be.”

Byfuglien is the Jets’ top defender and has 29 points (five goals, 24 assists) in 32 games this season while playing more than 24 minutes per night.

In his absence the Jets have still managed to go 7-3-0 over the past 10 games to remain tied with the Nashville Predators at the top of the Central Division. That number is even more impressive when you consider they have also been without forward Nikolaj Ehlers for eight of those games.

Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey have done a fantastic job stepping up on the blue line without him.

After the home game against Columbus on Thursday the next chance for him to get back in the lineup would be two nights later against the Anaheim Ducks.

Taylor Hall not progressing as quickly as Devils had hoped

The reigning league MVP has not played since Dec. 23 and is not progressing as quickly as the Devils had hoped in his recovery from a lower-body injury.

He did skate for the first time before practice on Sunday, but is not yet ready to return to the lineup and will not accompany the team on its trip to Pittsburgh for Monday’s game against the Penguins.

Even though Hall has only appeared in 33 games this season and has not played in more than a month, he is still the team’s second-leading scorer with 37 points, just one behind Kyle Palmieri.

Palmieri has played in 15 more games.

For the season Hall has 37 points in 33 games and is still the driving force behind everything the Devils do when he is in the lineup. He has arguably been just as good as he was a year ago when he nearly single-handedly carried the team to a surprising playoff spot. Injuries, however, have limited him and the Devils.

The Devils won the first three games of Hall’s absence but have fallen apart in the weeks since going just 3-7-0 in their past 10 games, with only two of those wins coming in regulation.

Justin Schultz is getting closer

While there is no official timetable for his return at this point, and even though he is not returned to full practice with the team, Pittsburgh Penguins defender Justin Schultz has been skating on his own and seems to be inching closer toward a return.

After practice on Sunday Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said that Schultz is “approaching” being able to join the team for practice and that he is more “week-to-week” than day-to-day.

Schultz has played in just four games this season after fracturing his leg back on October. He was originally expected to miss at least four months. That timeframe, assuming it is unchanged, would set him up for a return sometime around mid-February. Or in other words, about two weeks from today.

His return, whenever it happens, would be a significant one for the Penguins because he would help solidify their top-four on defense without having to make another trade (though, they still might). While their top-pairing is set with Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, and they seem willing to ride with a third-pairing of Marcus Pettersson and Jack Johnson, their second pairing has been a bit unsettled as they’ve rotated Jamie Oleksiak and Juuso Riikola alongside Olli Maatta. None of those combinations have been bad, but Schultz brings an element offensively that neither Oleksiak or Riikola (or Maata, for that matter) can.

He would also help what is an already dangerous power play unit.

Erik Karlsson gets another week off to prepare

After being shut down for the three games leading up to the NHL All-Star break, San Jose Sharks defender Erik Karlsson was at least healthy enough to play for the hometown fans in Sunday’s game.

Now he has another week to recover as the Sharks do not return to action until Friday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes. It is expected that Karlsson should be ready for action at that point.

Prior to the injury Karlsson had returned to his usual Norris Trophy form where he can dominate the pace of the game and score at a level that is unmatched by almost any other defender. He has recorded 28 points in his past 20 games, while also posting some of the best shot attempt and scoring chance numbers of any player in the league. He has been great, and everything the Sharks could have hoped for him to be when they added him to an already strong defense in an offseason trade with the Ottawa Senators. The Sharks struggled in the three games he missed, winning just one of them and giving up at least six goals in all three of them.

They were 8-2-0 in the 10 games prior to that stretch.

More: Sharks soak in love from fans during All-Star weekend

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.

 

Wild build lead, survive shotless third period to down Jets

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The Minnesota Wild are exacting a bit of revenge against the Winnipeg Jets this season.

For the second time in 13 days and third time this season, the Wild have found their way past the Jets. A 4-2 win back in November was followed up by a 3-1 win on Dec. 29 and then on Thursday night on NBCSN, the Wild did just enough to earn a 3-2 win despite not shooting one puck on goal in the third period.

Considering the Jets owned the Wild last season (3-1-0 in the regular season a before bouncing Minnesota in five games in the playoffs), it’s a decent consolation given that last season is behind them and the Wild are in a dogfight at the moment for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Whatever the formula is, it’s proven to be potent. The Wild have figured out how to stall Winnipeg’s power play — Winnipeg’s bread and butter — and stymie them 5-on-5.

Their game plan worked well once again after building a 3-0 lead, including back-to-back goals by Jason Zucker in the second period.

Winnipeg finally found a hole in Devan Dubnyk with 41 seconds left in the second. Given that the Jets had 57 goals this season in the third period, it wasn’t over but they needed a big period.

They engineered just that, outshooting the Wild 13-0 in the period (Minnesota’s only real flaw in the game). It was all Jets, and Mark Scheifele pulled Winnipeg to 3-2 with the extra attacker on the ice at 17:22.

But even with Minnesota’s failure to put a shot on goal, it was Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 26-of-28, that proved to be the difference as the Wild erased bad memories of a 4-0 loss to the Bruins on Tuesday.

Patrik Laine‘s struggles continued on Thursday. His most notable moment was a giveaway in the first period, which isn’t what you’d want to hear if you’re a prolific sniper.

Streaky is the name of Laine’s game, and has been since he got into the NHL as the second overall pick in 2016.

He’s got 24 goals this season, tied for 10th in the NHL, but they largely came in one white-hot stretch. Here’s the breakdown:

  • First 12 games: three goals
  • Next 12 games: 18 goals
  • Next 19 games: three goals

Laine’s bound to bite back with a vengeance, that’s what he does. But the Jets are missing that scoring, especially on the power play, where they are now five-for-25 over their past 10 games. If you take out their 3-for-4 performance against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, it only looks worse.

Full credit to the Wild, who paid no attention to Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was operating up top on the point. That allows the Wild to cover off Blake Wheeler, Scheifele and, of course, Laine. Winnipeg’s power play went 0-for-4.

They also blocked 22 shots in the game. That’s a committed effort in a team as dangerous as Winnipeg is with the puck.

Here’s Charlie Coyle on the success Minnesota found:


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