Josh Morrissey

Long-term outlook Winnipeg Jets Laine Connor Hellebuyck
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Long-term outlook for the Winnipeg Jets

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Winnipeg Jets.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

With the exception of Patrik Laine — who they could theoretically extend during the offseason – the Jets locked down most of their core over the years.

Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck possess two of the “shorter” long-term contracts among that core group, and their affordable contracts run through 2023-24. (Blake Wheeler‘s does, as well, but that’s a little more troubling being that the often-underrated winger is now 33.)

Beyond that Wheeler worry, there’s a lot to like, especially since Wheeler is comfortably the highest paid at $8.25M AAV.

(Actually, Bryan Little‘s contract was troubling from day one, but sadly, he might go on LTIR quite credibly.)

If Kevin Cheveldayoff can extend Laine at a reasonable price, this group could be cost-conscious enough for Winnipeg to even take advantage of other teams possibly facing cap squeezes. It makes me wonder: could the Jets go after another core piece in free agency? Signing, say, Alex Pietrangelo would make them stronger and weaken Central Division rival St. Louis.

Even as a “budget” team, the possibilities are intriguing for the Jets to improve upon their long-term core. That said, improvements might be needed for the Jets to truly soar.

Long-term needs for Jets

It’s remarkable that Hellebuyck (and some star scorers) dragged Winnipeg to playoff contention, because that group was rough this season.

Neal Pionk turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise, to the point that he might be able to join the core to an extent. And, for sure, Josh Morrissey is a steady presence. But things dry up quite a bit beyond that, and an ideal contender probably would ask less of both of them, particularly Morrissey.

So, can Ville Heinola eventually be a key defender? How will Sami Niku’s development go?

Getting steps in development, overall, is a long-term key for the Jets. Jack Roslovic strikes me as someone who can do more, but he needs opportunities. What, exactly, is Laine’s ceiling? Will the Jets actually boost him up to reach it?

The Jets have to hope that they can mitigate the eventual drop-off for Wheeler, who’s already sinking a bit at 33. (By his standards.)

They could also use some more depth. It’s probably not a coincidence that, year after year (Paul Stastny to Kevin Hayes to even Cody Eakin), they seem to need to burn assets to add 2C and/or 3C help. Laurent Brossoit had a tough season, casting some doubt on the backup position.

I’ll also endlessly wonder if Paul Maurice is all that far above your average coach. But, hey, give the dude credit for being a long-term bench presence even with … meh results more often than not.

Long-term strengths for Jets

The sheer youth of this team is something to get excited about. Laine just turned 22. Kyle Connor seems to be jumping another level at 23, while Nikolaj Ehlers is a transition menace at 24. Hellebuyck is 26, Mark Scheifele is only 27, and Morrissey is 25.

I mentioned possibly pitching a deal at Pietrangelo because the Jets see a lot of space opening up.

Losing Dustin Byfuglien hurts, but his age was making his contract risky anyway. The Jets signing Kulikov furrowed my brow, yet now they can use that money toward … uh, someone good? (Sorry, Kulikov.)

It’s not always easy to lure free agents to Winnipeg, but a) they’ve become a consistent winner and b) might be one of the only winners with cash to burn during the uncertain, upcoming offseason.

That mixture of prime-age talent, solid maneuverability, and a steady-and-solid front office should put the Jets in a solid position to compete for some time. They do need Cheveldayoff to make the right moves to get back at a high level again, as Hellebuyck camouflaged a steep decline — one that quietly brewed even toward the end of 2018-19.

MORE ON THE JETS:

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.

Jets help make 11-year-old’s goaltending dream come true

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If you needed a feel-good story, you can find it in the Winnipeg Jets helping 11-year-old Kylan Jackson live out a hockey dream.

Sportsnet’s video captures the story, and the scene, in wonderful detail.

Jackson dealt with leukemia at a young age, but battled the disease with help from his family. Eventually, “The Dream Factory” worked with Josh Morrissey to help Jackson get a taste of life as a Jets goalie.

There are a lot of great touches in that Sportsnet video. For some reason, Paul Maurice motioning Kylan Jackson over really made me smile:

Jets coach Maurice motions Kylan Jackson over Dream Project

The exchanges between Jackson, Connor Hellebuyck, and Laurent Brossoit ranked among the best moments of the video. Hellebuyck was impressed by Jackson being a quick learner, while Jackson raved about Hellebuyck’s glove save against the Lightning.

[A look at Hellebuyck’s dominant season]

Hellebuyck amusingly admitted that he’s not sure he actually saw the puck. That’s OK though, because just putting his glove up there did the trick:

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.

Report: Jets, Byfuglien working toward contract termination

The Winnipeg Jets and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien are headed toward a solution.

According to a report from TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the Jets and Byfuglien are closing in on a mutual contract termination that will officially end his time with the franchise.

Byfuglien has not played for the Jets this season after stepping away from the team just before training camp to contemplate his future. The Jets officially suspended him, while Byfuglien filed a grievance in November arguing that he should have still been paid as he was recovering from a hockey injury.  He underwent ankle surgery in October.

He has played for the organization since the start of the 2010-11 season when it was still based in Atlanta.

During his time with the team has been one of the league’s most productive offensive defensemen and the foundation of the Jets’ blue line. He was limited to just 42 games a year ago due to injury, but the Jets were still planning on him playing a significant role on this year’s team. But as training camp approached he stepped away from the team, leaving an already undermanned Jets’ defense without its best and most impactful player.

That came after the Jets had traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers and saw Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot exit in free agency.

If the two sides eventually come to an agreement on a contract termination, Byfuglien would become an unrestricted free agent, while the Jets would clear a significant amount of salary cap space before the trade deadline and for next season. Byfuglien’s current contract carries a salary cap hit of $7.6 million per season.

What comes next for Jets, Byfuglien

The big thing here for the Jets is that it would finally give them some clarity on their defense, what they need, and what they have to work with.

They would know for sure that Byfuglien is not returning, and it would also create a ton of salary cap flexibility for the offseason to fill that spot and upgrade the entire position. As of now, the only defensemen the Jets have under contract for next season are Josh Morrissey, Neal Poink, Tucker Poolman, and Carl Dahlstrom. Not exactly a great situation. While Morrissey and Poink figure to be long-term pieces, Poolman and Dahlmstrom are both in their mid-20s and have limited NHL experience.

It would also create a serious of questions for Byfuglien that still need to be answered.

That includes whether or not he is healthy enough to play this season and if he actually wants to play this season. If the answer to both of those questions are yes, he could still be a potential difference-maker in the stretch run and into the playoffs assuming he is healthy. The age and health situation are legitimate concerns, but he was still one of the top point-producing defenseman in the league just last season when he was on the ice.

Putting him on a contending lineup (without having to give up anything in return) would be a pretty big addition for someone if it happens.

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.

 

The Buzzer: McDavid, Draisaitl, Eichel can’t be stopped

McDavid Draisaitl Eichel
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Three Stars

1. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Gauging which player was the best of Saturday’s three-point men is difficult. Matthews (two goals, one assist) isn’t a certain choice for the top player on his team, as Zach Hyman also scored two goals and an assist in Toronto’s win.

That said, Matthews presents a worthy argument. He generated a primary assist, and offered up the game-winner.

The 22-year-old extended his multi-point streak to three games (4G, 3A). While Toronto’s been dysfunctional with injuries and inconsistency, Matthews keeps delivering, producing 23 goals and 41 points through 37 games.

Matthews could catch Jimmy Carson for a milestone among U.S.-born snipers if he keeps this up.

2. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues

The Blues scored two empty-net goals, but Schwartz didn’t feast on either of them. Instead, Schwartz served all steak, no sizzle: two primary assists and the game-winner.

(OK, Schwartz probably dished out at least some sizzle.)

With at least one point in four of five games (2G,4A), Schwartz has 28 points in 37 games. Maintaining such a pace would place at about 62 points over 82 games. Of course, Schwartz must stay healthy to flirt with that type of production.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Hellebuyck came into Saturday as one of the league’s GSAA leaders, bailing out Winnipeg frequently. The netminder bumped that up with a 31-save shutout against Minnesota.

Yes, the Jets winning 6-0 takes some of the shine off of that. Not all, though, and Hellebuyck deserves recognition for saving Winnipeg’s season during certain stretches. Josh Morrissey serves as another Winnipeg option, as he collected three assists.

Highlight of the Night

Connor McDavid failed to make the three stars, but he was great as usual. McDavid scored another highlight reel against the Canadiens, rendering Max Domi and his highlight reel goal just a bit short of the mark.

Oopsie of the Night

Jaroslav Halak ranks as one of the NHL’s best backups, and plenty of teams wouldn’t mind employing him as their starter. After seeing this, I’d argue he should probably not try to evoke Hasek thwarting breakaways again anytime soon, though:

Naughty and nice

Factoids

Scores

BUF 3 – LAK 2
ANA 6 – NYI 5 (SO)
WPG 6 – MIN 0
NSH 4 – BOS 3 (OT)
TOR 4 – DET 1
PHI 5 – OTT 4 (SO)
WSH 3 – TBL 1
FLA 4 – CAR 2
CBJ 5 – NJD 1
EDM 4 – MTL 3
CHI 5 – COL 3
VAN 4 – PIT 1
STL 5 – SJS 2

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.

The Buzzer: Islanders, others make Saturday strong for streaks

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Happy streaks continue, sad ones end

The Sharks beat the Islanders 2-1 in overtime, ending the Isles’ latest winning streak at five. You may notice that it took OT to make that happen, though, so the Islanders’ franchise-record point streak grows to 17 games (15-0-2).

Dallas isn’t all that far behind the Islanders, as the Stars have won six games in a row, and are now 13-1-1 in their past 15 games.

Two six-game losing streaks ended on Saturday, as the Flames should thank David Rittich, while the Predators won but must cross their fingers about Viktor Arvidsson‘s health.

Three Stars

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

It’s difficult to pick between Bergeron (four assists) and his teammate Torey Krug (overtime game-winning goal, two assists). Feel free to swap them in your mind if that suits your taste, but either way, Boston’s biggest names continue to propel them to wins.

Bergeron hasn’t been as spectacular as Brad Marchand (1G, 1A on Saturday) and David Pastrnak (no points) this season, but he’s still playing well, as this outburst gives him 24 points in 21 games. The 34-year-old also has a four-game point/assist streak going, with seven during that span.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combined for another dominant performance, as they’re wont to do.

McDavid scored two goals, while Draisaitl piled up three assists, all primary. That extra point gives Draisaitl (47) the season points lead over McDavid (46), and also gets Draisaitl the mention as the second star instead of 97. McDavid will probably work through this setback.

3. Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars

There seems to be a theme running. At some point, the Islanders have to cool off a bit, right? McDavid + Draisaitl and the Bruins’ top line can’t dominate every game, can they?

We’re at the point where the Stars duo of Khudobin and Ben Bishop are inspiring similar questions (and serving as parallels to the Isles’ goalies), as they just keep getting it done. Dallas needed all of Khudobin’s 38 saves through regulation and overtime to win in a shootout where Khudobin turned aside both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Robin Lehner deserves a mention, as stopped 40 out of 41 shots but didn’t get the W. Lehner’s essentially playing like an amazing MLB ace who is getting basically zero run support most nights with the Blackhawks.

Highlight of the Night

This is a dazzling bit of wizardry from the Rangers, who managed to storm back from an 0-4 deficit to beat the Canadiens 6-5 in regulation:

Ewww

If you’re anxious about an upcoming dentist visit, don’t hit play. Or if you’re squeamish, really. Keith Yandle is a hockey player, thus he returned …

Factoids

  • Sportsnet points out that Draisaitl and McDavid are the first teammates with at least 45 points each in their team’s first 25 games since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr managed the feat for the Penguins in 1995-96. The full list of pairings to pull that off is quite small.
  • Josh Morrissey and Nathan Beaulieu were injured during the Jets’ game, and so was the night’s starter, Laurent Brossoit. Winnipeg still managed a win.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy set a Lightning franchise record with his 132nd win. That face doesn’t necessarily say “Wow, that’s not a very impressive franchise record,” but its nondescript nature is even more amusing if you imagine in that way.

  • NHL PR notes that the Rangers’ comeback win from down four goals ranks as the fifth such comeback win already this season, which already ties the league’s single-season record. Feel free to make jokes about how a four-goal lead has replaced a two-goal lead as the “worst lead in hockey.”

(You actually really don’t have to.)

Scores

VAN 2 – WSH 1 (SO)
CGY 3 – PHI 2 (SO)
ARI 3 – LAK 2
BOS 5 – MIN 4 (OT)
NYR 6 – MTL 5
TBL 6 – ANA 2
NJD 5 – DET 1
CAR 4 – FLA 2
WPG 4 – CBJ 3
TOR 5 – COL 3
NSH 4 – STL 2
DAL 2 – CHI 1 (SO)
EDM 4 – VGK 2
SJS 2 – NYI 1 (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.