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Winnipeg’s Paul Stastny problem

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WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have quite the conundrum on their hands.

It’s nothing earth-shattering. It’s one of those problems you can file on the good-headache-to-have category, but it’s still something that needs to be addressed, one way or another.

The man central to the issue is center Paul Stastny

He’s the guy no one knew was coming to Winnipeg at the trade deadline until Kevin Cheveldayoff shipped a first rounder and a prospect to the St. Louis Blues to get, shortly after Blues general manager Doug Armstrong dangled Stastny in front of the playoff-charging Jets.

Everything clicked as soon as Stastny donned the Jets sweater in late February. The son of Hall of Famer Peter meshed immediately with superstar sniper Patrik Laine and the dancing Dane, Nikolaj Ehlers — two pillars of Winnipeg’s seemingly bright future.

Stastny slid perfectly in between the duo, providing a center that could play with the two gifted wingers. Stastny knew his role and played it well: feed the men on either side of him.

Laine and Ehlers gushed about Stastny, providing joy to the team and to fans alike.

The deal of the trade deadline was so satisfying that Jets are working hard to find a way to keep the goods for good.

And therein lies the problem.

How does a team with such a bevy of talent that needs to get paid to afford a player that’s tough to fit on the ledger?

CapFriendly will show that the Jets are currently at roughly $54.5 million when it comes to the salary cap. We know the cap will increase to $79.5 million this season, meaning the Jets have some $25 million to play with (and actually less when you consider they could have around $4 million in entry-level contract bonuses to pay out.)

To someone unaware of what the Jets are facing, it looks easy to fit Stastny in. But the Jets have 16 total restricted free agents, nine of which were on the team for most of the year and seven more in the minors.

And not all of them are low-priced restricted free agents either.

Connor Hellebuyck set several records on his way to being voted as the runner-up to Pekka Rinne for the Vezina Trophy.

Winnipeg’s top pairing on defense in Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba need money, too. They’re one of the best shutdown duos in the league. Trouba is looking long-term and for big money, while Cheveldayoff may be able to get Morrissey to sign a bridge. Either way, the money needs to be spent.

The Jets then need to lock up third-line center Adam Lowry, wingers Joel Armia and Brandon Tanev and defenseman Tucker Poolman and Joe Morrow while also figuring out what to do with Marko Dano and several aforementioned minor leaguers (who only count if they play in the Show.)

[On Paul Stastny and his impact with the Jets]

That $25 million goes quick, and the Jets will have Kyle Connor, who led all rookies with 31 goals, versatile forward Jack Roslovic and, of course, Laine to pay coming up as well.

Stastny isn’t looking to play for a pittance, of course, so there are some scenarios that must occur to make this work.

Let’s delve into them.

Trade money away

The best way to make room is to clean out some space.

As we saw this weekend with the Washington Capitals, they needed to move Brooks Orpik’s $5.5 million cap hit to make way for John Carlson’s eight-year, $64 million extension.

There are some options here for the Jets. Names that immediately come to mind are Trouba’s fellow d-man Tyler Myers, who’s cap hit for the Jets is $5.5 million per year, forward Mathieu Perreault at $4.125 million a year and goalie Steve Mason at $4.1 million with one year left on his two-year $8.2 million deal.

Trading Trouba isn’t desirable. He’s far too valuable an asset, but the Jets also have a kid named Sami Niku, who captured the American Hockey League’s best defenseman award in his rookie season, looking to earn a roster spot this season. If Trouba’s demands are too high, it might become the best option, but likely not until the 2019-20 season.

Myers is getting a lot for a third-pairing defenseman, but Jets head coach loves himself some Myers. Myers will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, however, and the Jets won’t be able to afford him at his current price point then regardless. Moving Myers would be an option that makes the most sense if there’s a market for him. He’s a big man capable of playing a lot of minutes, and there are teams that need that, so it’s surely a possibility if the Jets are willing to explore it.

That said, and as already mentioned, Maurice likes Myers and uses him a lot on the penalty kill, on the second power-play unit and Maurice has already chatted with Myers, a right-hand shot, moving to the left side this season to perhaps play with Dustin Byfuglien with Toby Enstrom departing as a free agent.

It’s unlikely a team will want to risk paying Mason after his injury-plagued season. And trading Perreault, who can play anywhere in the lineup and make any linemates better, shouldn’t make sense from an organizational standpoint. He’s too valuable, even if he’s a little overpaid.

Wizardry on the balance sheet

Figuring this out seems a futile endeavor.

There are a lot of unknowns with the RFAs right now. At this point, the Jets have just seven players signed to contracts past next season.

If Cheveldayoff could just get every player he possesses to sign Mark Scheifele-type deals, the Jets would have a better team than they already do. But that’s just not the case.

Sure, Morrissey may take a bridge. Lowry might, too. But Trouba likely won’t, and even if he heads to arbitration, will make more than the $3 million he’s commanding on his current bridge contract.

Hellebuyck needs to be paid like the elite level goalie he is.

It’s tight, to say the least.

Sign Stastny short-term

Hockey Analytics guru Matt Cane’s prediction of Stastny’s next contract is three years at roughly $5.4 million annually.

The problem for the Jets isn’t the 2018-19 season, it’s the one after.

With Winnipeg’s biggest contract — Laine — still a year away from kicking in, and with the shedding of other contracts at the end of next season — Myers’ $5.5 million, potentially Blake Wheeler’s $5.6 million and Mason’s $4.1 million — the Jets could give Stastny a home for a reasonable price on a deal that would make sense for all parties.

Wheeler is going to want a big raise after his 91-point season, but he’ll be 33 after next season and may price himself out of Winnipeg.

But if Wheeler stays, it’s not crazy to think that Wheeler, Laine and Connor could make well over $20 million combined beginning in the 2019-20 season.

Breakup and remain friends

As good as the fling was between Stastny and the Jets, getting him signed might just not make sense in the end.

Laine needs a center. So does Ehlers. Roslovic could grow into that role. The Jets were a better team with Stastny, but have young players become a year older and better by the same token.

It was good while it lasted, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Long story short

Much of this is guesswork. We look at the cap, we look at the players and we try to figure out what makes the most sense.

Simply, if Stastny wants to stay in Winnipeg, he needs to take less money and less term.

The benefit of him being in Winnipeg is he gets to play next to Laine and on a team that appears to have a solid window that’s open for a few runs at the Stanley Cup.

If he wants long-term security, he will look elsewhere. There will be no shortage of suitors willing to pay more, and for longer, for a productive center.

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

Winnipeg Jets providing blueprint on handling devastating injuries

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The injury bug paid a visit to Winnipeg and left a six-to-eight week piece of adversity on the doorstep of the Jets on Monday

The Jets announced that top defenseman Jacob Trouba will be sidelined for up to two months with a lower-body injury he picked up last Thursday, handing the Central Division-leading Jets the third such lengthy diagnosis this season.

Losing your No. 1 center and your top-line defenseman in a span of a month is less than favorable, but if any team has shown the blueprint to dealing with seemingly massive blows to a roster this season, it’s the Jets.

They’ll certainly need to refer to it going forward.

Perhaps the most impressive trait when it comes to their ascent to the top of the Central has been their ability to navigate the harsh realities that come with each and every NHL season.

Injuries have, are, and always will be a mainstay for every team. It’s a fact of life in the NHL and one teams try to prepare for with depth. Some succeed while others fail.

The Jets are proof this season that the latter is attainable despite some significant knocks to key players.

Here is the lengthy list of other Jets who have gone down this season:

  • Mark Scheifele — injured after falling into the end boards following a hit from Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson in the second period on Dec. 27. Diagnosis: 6-8 weeks with a shoulder injury
  • Adam Lowry — an upper-body injury likely sustained against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 5. Has missed eight games (will return to the lineup on Tuesday).
  • Dmitry Kulikov — injured after getting drilled from behind by San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl on Jan. 23. He’s out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. (UPDATE: Kulikov could play Thursday, Jets coach Paul Maurice said Tuesday).
  • Brandon Tanev — missed seven games after picking up a lower-body injury on Dec. 29 against the New York Islanders.
  • Toby Enstrom — missed eight weeks and 23 games with a lower-body injury he sustained back in October.
  • Dustin Byfuglien —  sidelined for 10 games after a Dec. 9 tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Steve Mason —  missed seven games with a concussion in late November and early December and has now missed a further six with another concussion.

Every team deals with injuries. Not every team deals with injuries well. The Jets have dealt with the injury bug in impressive fashion.

Mark Scheifele’s injury could have been a season-altering blow. Losing your No.1 center isn’t a desirable thing to have happen, and Scheifele was having a career year and helping those around him do the same.

But in the 12 games he’s missed since getting injured, the Jets are 8-2-2.

“You look at what we’ve been able to do with (Scheifele) out of the lineup,” Lowry said on Monday in Winnipeg. “You lose your No.1 center, who was having an all-star campaign when he went down, and it seems like (Blake) Wheeler just slots into the middle and our team gets rolling.”

Wheeler’s move from right wing to center has been exceptional in Scheifele’s absence and has allowed for the boat to be a little less rocked down the middle for the Jets.

Trouba’s injury comes on the heels of the Jets losing Kulikov indefinitely.

“A key piece, right? It’s not just losing the player, he’s also playing right at his peak. His game in Anaheim was outstanding. He was really good,” Maurice said shortly after confirming reports of Trouba’s injury. “If we have an area of depth, and we do, it’s right defense. So that’s the one place if we have a guy go down, that we have players there who want the minutes, that can handle the minutes.”

The Jets will slot Tyler Myers up with Josh Morrissey in attempt to fill the minutes Trouba was commanding. Myers has shown he can handle the workload.

“Obviously (Trouba) is a big loss,” Myers said. “We’ve dealt with injuries the past month here. For us as a group, it’s just focusing on the same thing we have and that’s our game plan and executing.” 

Helping the Jets with Trouba out will be the defensive corps’ familiarity with one another. The Jets blue line was ravaged last year, including Myers, who was limited to just 11 games because of a groin injury.

“You can take it back to the last few years since I’ve been here. Everyone on the back end has played with a lot of different partners throughout my time here. We’re pretty used to switching things up. It’s just a matter of talking it out and getting used to each other quicker rather than later.” 

The Jets will have to be quick learners again.


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

Injuries offer challenge while showing depth for the Winnipeg Jets

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WINNIPEG — The equilibrium that existed for the Winnipeg Jets has been rocked over the past few days.

First, there was the six-to-eight week injury to Mark Scheifele, the team’s second-leading scorer, and its best center. And then on Friday night, Brandon Tanev, a winger on the third line, went down in the first period and didn’t return.

He was placed on injured reserve on Saturday, week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

Now, Jets fans will be thinking, why is Tanev’s injury being mentioned in the same breath as Scheifele’s? Of course, Tanev doesn’t have anywhere near the same impact that Scheifele does, on the scoresheet or otherwise, but he has played a key role on a very important line for the Jets since early November.

Since Adam Lowry returned from injury in early November, Jets coach Paul Maurice has deployed a line featuring Lowry, Tanev and Andrew Copp. On paper, its the team’s third line, but it’s played a pivotal role.

Lowry’s line with Tanev and Copp had remained untouched until Maurice’s hand was forced on Friday. Maurice has talked at length about how well that line has gelled since it was formed.

Maurice has sent out that line against the NHL’s best since it showed, early on, that it could handle those duties. And it’s had a trickle-down (and up) effect on the team’s forward contingent.

In the past, Maurice and the Jets have relied on its top two lines to handle the brunt of the shutdown work. With that third line pitching in some valuable minutes in that role, it’s freed up the other two lines to do what they do best: score.

The Jets are fourth thus far in goals-for, a testament to their talent, surely, but also their ability to ice a line that’s had a bigger impact that first thought.

With the two injuries, the Jets have had to shuffle the deck now. Mathieu Perreault, who elevated the team’s fourth line into something that resembled a formidable trio, has moved up to the second line. He’s been exceptional at making those around him better, and one of the reasons why he was kept on the fourth line despite playing well above its level.

Early indications seem favourable, even if the lineup has taken quite the jolt.

The Jets beat in the New York Islanders 4-2 on Friday night, playing without Schiefele and most of the game without Tanev. Even with the missing parts, the team seemed to click.

It’s always going to be a tough ask to trudge along without your top center. But it will be interesting to see how the Jets manage without that third line intact.

“Even with all of that movement, there’s still quite a bit of continuity,” Maurice said after Friday’s game.

That’s true, and Maurice pointed out that several of its new line combos have spent time with each other in the past, including Joel Armia playing with Copp and Lowry, which happened with regularity last year.

The Jets might also get a look at perhaps their best prospect in Jack Roslovic. The 20-year-old first-rounder in 2015 has been lighting up the American Hockey League with the Manitoba Moose, sitting third in AHL scoring with 15 goals and 35 points in 31 games.

Roslovic is envisioned as the heir to the center position on the team’s second line in the future and he’s certainly deserved his opportunity to get some playing time.


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