Getty Images

Healthier defense would make Byfuglien-sized difference for Jets

The Winnipeg Jets have made a habit of “finding ways to win” this season, but it hasn’t always been pretty. That’s been particularly true lately, with key defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey out with injuries.

It’s unclear when, exactly, Byfuglien and Morrissey may return. This NHL.com report from Tim Campbell indicates that the team thinks Byfuglien could play on Saturday (or even Thursday), with the general feeling being that he could be back in the lineup soon. Morrissey, meanwhile, seems to be targeting an early April return.

Campbell’s story is entertaining because of the range of ways people describe the impact of Byfuglien, citing both his ability to move the puck out of trouble (and in trouble for opponents), and his ability to intimidate opposing players if they try to cause trouble. Jets coach Paul Maurice tends to have a way with words, so it’s not shocking that he painted quite the picture.

“He changes the way [opposing] forwards view their night,” Maurice said. “I don’t know that people are chirping our bench any more but you’re not checking your shoulder quite as hard when you’re going to get a puck when it’s not Dustin coming after you.”

The Jets are generally better equipped to handle the absence of Byfuglien and Morrissey, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a strain. Byfuglien’s been averaging 24:26 TOI per game so far in 2018-19, while Morrissey had been logging 22:24 TOI. That burden fell to Jacob Trouba – who seems to have mostly handled it well – but also pressed Sami Niku and Nathan Beaulieu into action.

You could argue that there could be a silver lining to this situation, in that Niku and Beaulieu might serve as upgrades to Ben Chiarot and Dmitry Kulikov once Byfuglien and Morrissey return, depending upon your taste. But either way, the absence of Byfuglien and Morrissey has been resounding.

Even with a relatively healthy defense, the Jets have already shown some warning signs of trouble when you look past simple goals scored and allowed, and peaked at underlying stats. If you look at Money Puck’s expected goals differential chart, though, you can see that things went from “shaky for a contender” to just-plain scary once February rolled around:

via Money Puck

That, friends and foes, is a pretty disturbing chart.

Now, sure, the Jets have the sort of shooting talent that can make the difference many nights, even when they’re underwater from a puck possession standpoint. It’s telling, for instance, that the Jets scored one more goal (57) than allowed (56) during their latest, bumpy 18-game stretch where they’ve gone 9-8-1 while losing the total shots on goal battle by almost 100 (605-509).

What happens, however, when the Jets don’t get to feast on the Senators, Rangers, and Ducks of the NHL? Would they be able to skill-over-will opponents who boast similar firepower if they kept playing at this current rate?

Getting Byfuglien and Morrissey back sure seems crucial to that goal, and Winnipeg has to hope that they can shake off some rust while also entering the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as healthy as possible. For all we know, they could make the difference between a big run or more postseason heartbreak for a prodigiously talented team.

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: Jets visit Ducks on Wednesday Night Hockey

Getty Images
1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With 10 games left to play in their season, Winnipeg leads Nashville in the Central and is in line for just the second division title in franchise history. The only time the franchise won their division was when they were the Atlanta Thrashers and won the Southeast Division in 2006-07.

Despite leading the division, Winnipeg has been a mediocre 12-11-2 over the last 25 games, with a minus-3 goal differential during that span.

More recently, however, the Jets have won three straight games, all by one goal, and look more like the team that reached the Western Conference Final last season. After defeating playoff contenders Boston and Calgary, Winnipeg snuck by Los Angeles on Monday 3-2. Kevin Hayes and Kyle Connor both scored, but the Jets blew their two-goal lead before Tyler Myers scored the eventual game-winner late in the second period.

Anaheim is in 14th place in the West and is all but assured to miss the playoffs, which will snap a streak of six straight seasons. That was tied for the second longest active streak in the league with Minnesota, who is still very much alive in the playoff hunt.

Despite their place in the standings, the Ducks have won back-to-back games and six of their last nine games overall. Five of those six wins have come against teams in the playoff hunt.

The Ducks are 9-9-0 since firing Randy Carlyle and replacing him with GM Bob Murray.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Winnipeg Jets at Anaheim Ducks
WHERE: Honda Center
WHEN: Wednesday, March 20, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAMING: You can watch the Jets-Ducks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

JETS
Patrik LaineMark ScheifeleBlake Wheeler
Kyle Connor – Kevin Hayes – Nikolaj Ehlers
Brandon TanevAdam LowryBryan Little
Mathieu PerreaultAndrew CoppJack Roslovic

Joe MorrowJacob Trouba
Dmitry Kulikov – Tyler Myers
Ben ChiarotSami Niku

Starting goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

DUCKS
Nick RitchieRyan GetzlafDaniel Sprong
Corey PerryAdam HenriqueTroy Terry
Rickard RakellDevin ShoreJakob Silfverberg
Max JonesDerek GrantCarter Rowney

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson
Jacob Larsson – Cam Fowler
Jaycob Megna – Korbinian Holzer

Starting goalie: John Gibson

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Jets miss out on Stone, get what they needed on deadline day

2 Comments

A man named Mick once recited some words into a studio microphone and out popped out one of history’s most widely recognized songs.

“You can’t always get what you want” is an excellent summation for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his Winnipeg Jets, who may have lost the Mark Stone Sweepstakes on Monday, but ended up getting what they needed after leading the day with six transactions.

Stone, of course, was the de facto top prize for several teams heading into the day. His homecoming to Winnipeg, the city he grew up in and just a couple hours east of where he played junior hockey, would have been the stuff movies are made of. But when the Jets announced they had acquired Kevin Hayes from the New York Rangers, it was evident that Stone’s ship had passed them by.

Your eyes, understandably, light up when one of the league’s premier two-way players enters the market. It’s a no-brainer that Cheveldayoff and his Cup contender wanted in, and he certainly had the assets to get the deal done.

But when you’re a general manager that has raised a stable of prospects like Cheveldayoff has, parting with them isn’t easy. And if the Jets couldn’t re-sign Stone long-term (and it would have required some significant roster surgery to make it work), then giving up names like Jack Roslovic and Sami Niku likely became a non-starter for what would have amounted to a very expensive rental player.

None of this is to say that the Jets didn’t go out and get what they needed on Monday. The thought process coming into the 2019 trade deadline was similar to that of the year before: the Jets wanted a second-line center to bolster an already potent offense.

They got that in Hayes, 26, who will suit up for the Jets on Tuesday after being acquired for a first-round pick in 2019, a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 and forward Brendan Lemieux. The Jets didn’t waste any time getting that deal out of the way, either, striking an accord with the Rangers in the early goings of Monday’s proceedings.

“Kevin is a good fit for us in many, many ways,” Cheveldayoff said after hanging up the phone on his sixth and final trade call of the day. “He’s someone, I think everyone talks about, obviously, his size and his offensive abilities, but I really think what’s really going to shine through here is his defensive abilities as well. Penalty killer, responsible — he’s someone, over the course of his career, has grown his game from just being a pure offensive player in high school and in college and grown his game to a really mature professional game.”

Offloading Lemieux was a shrewd move and an example of selling high on a player who was producing above what was expected.

[Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline]

Winnipeg learned last year when they pulled the wool over the entire league’s eyes and traded for Paul Stastny, just how valuable another center was when added to their lineup. The Jets went all the way to the Western Conference final thanks, in part, to Stastny’s efforts. The expectation is for Hayes to do the same.

The Jets then added two left-shot defensemen, a spot on their roster that needed extra depth, especially after top-pairing d-man Josh Morrissey went down with an apparent arm injury in a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. With no conclusive status on Morrissey’s diagnosis — or at least that’s what the media was fed on Monday — Winnipeg traded for Nathan Beaulieu and Bogdan Kiselevich, two depth guys who offer enough upside to fill in if need be on the Jets’ back end.

Cheveldayoff wasn’t going to be caught off guard this time around.

“A couple of years ago, the night before the deadline we lost Mark Scheifele and it’s a very difficult situation going in at that point in time when you don’t have options in front of you, there are no centermen on market to really cover yourself with,” Cheveldayoff said. “In this situation here, obviously, Dustin [Byfuglien] is out, Joe Morrow is out and Josh [Morrissey] is still going to be evaluated. The team stayed in Arizona overnight, it was a scheduled travel day the way our schedule is set up. It made it difficult for [Morrissey] to really get assessed by our doctors in a timely fashion and I felt it was appropriate that we need to add the pieces to have the depth moving forward here.”

The rest of the West’s powerhouses all added to their rosters, so Winnipeg needed to do so as well. Hayes is a solid fit for the Jets. The depth defensemen were the insurance plan they required.

And in the end, Winnipeg did what it set out to do: improve its team.


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