Nathan Beaulieu

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Jets’ turbulent offseason capped with injuries to Little, Beaulieu

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Few teams come into the very beginning of the 2019-20 season quite as bruised and bewildered as the Winnipeg Jets.

After a tough end to last season that included a Round 1 exit, the Jets absorbed body blows that were more than just flesh wounds during the offseason. They waved goodbye to some key players from rental Kevin Hayes to defensive mainstays including Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. Things were bumpy, to say the least, with Patrik Laine, from ambivalent comments about his future, not-so-kind comments about linemates such as Bryan Little, and finally a very short-term truce with the team via a two-year deal. There was also uncertainty with Kyle Connor until he signed a lengthy pact. If that wasn’t all enough, Dustin Byfuglien is contemplating retirement, and didn’t exactly give the Jets a ton of notice about what’s either a soul-searching sojourn or the end of a truly unique NHL career.

After all the corny (yet inevitable) “day off” jokes that once followed GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, one couldn’t blame the executive if he felt both relieved and exhausted as the season merely begins.

Unfortunately, the hits kept coming in the final days of an offseason that rarely felt like time off.

The Jets provided two unfortunate bits of injury news on Tuesday, as the team announced that Little is out indefinitely with a concussion, while defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is IR-bound with an upper-body injury that’s expected to sideline him for about four weeks. Both injuries happened during what ended up being a very costly 4-1 preseason win against the Minnesota Wild.

(This Luke Kunin hit injured Little, and Scott Billeck reports for the Winnipeg Sun that head coach Paul Maurice was understandably unhappy about it.)

All of these injuries, free agent losses, and Byfuglien-sized curveballs create some massive craters in the Jets’ lineup, which is troubling since Winnipeg looked so wobbly at times last season, even with the likes of Trouba in the mix. Money Puck’s month-to-month expected goals chart presented their plummeting play in a dramatic way:

Some of those months were without Byfuglien, but again, with Trouba. Taking Ben Chiarot and Beaulieu out of an already troubled group slices up that defense even more.

Meanwhile, the Little injury stacks the deck against Maurice and the Jets, too.

The team shared line rushes that would include Andrew Copp as a second-line center, with Adam Lowry possibly as the 3C.

That doesn’t inspire the highest level of confidence, although maybe this is a time where Maurice should be more willing to experiment. While this would be out of necessity, you never know when you might find different things that work, possibly giving you a Plan B (to Z!) for when matchups become tougher during playoff skirmishes.

What if Jack Roslovic could thrive in a 2C or 3C role? Is it possible that breaking up Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele could benefit the likes of Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers? Considering his traditionally impressive possession stats, would Mathieu Perreault be worth a look at one of those center spots, too?

It’s possible that none of those alignments would be optimal, but you don’t need to look too hard to see that these aren’t the most optimal times for the Jets.

Again, though, sometimes bigger challenges bring out the best in players. In the past, it might have felt like the Jets had a luxurious surplus of talent, maybe allowing some to believe – consciously or subconsciously – that they could “flip the switch” and turn things around, even with red flags waving.

Under the current circumstances, they’re going to depend on not just Scheifele and Wheeler, but also Laine, Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, and Connor Hellebuyck. Without pressure, you can’t get diamonds, and so maybe that thought will serve as the Jets’ silver lining.

Because, frankly, there are some uncomfortable forces bearing down on them as the season begins.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

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If you wanted the story of Montreal’s ’14-15 campaign, all you had to do was watch the NHL Awards.

Or more specifically, the Carey Price awards.

Price was at the microphone four times to celebrate his banner campaign: Once for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, once for the Vezina as the NHL’s top netminder, once for the Ted Lindsay award as the most outstanding player as voted by the players, and once for the William Jennings Trophy as a goalie on the team that allowed the fewest goals in the regular season.

OK, he did have to share that last one with Corey Crawford. But you get the idea.

Simplistic as it sounds, Montreal’s season was mostly about Price, in that the Habs went as far as their star goalie would take them. Sure, other Canadiens played integral roles — Max Pacioretty scored 37 goals, P.K. Subban was a Norris Finalist — but for the most part, the 50 wins and 110 points and second-round playoff appearance was due to No. 31.

Which begs the question:

Can he do it again?

Off-season recap

GM Marc Bergevin’s spent most of the summer attending to in-house business. All three of his trade deadline pickups — Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell and Jeff Petry — were extended, with Petry scoring the biggest with a six-year, $33 million deal.

Youngsters Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Bournival, Jarred Tinordi, Christian Thomas, Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu were also given new deals, while veterans Mike Weaver, Sergei Gonchar, Manny Malhotra and P.A. Parenteau (via buyout) were sent packing.

As for new faces? Zack Kassian was acquired from Vancouver in exchange for Brandon Prust, while Carolina castoff Alex Semin was signed to a one-year, $1.1M deal after the ‘Canes bought him out.

At the draft, Montreal used its first-round pick to select WHL Everett blueliner Noah Juulsen 26th overall.

All in all, it was a perfunctory offseason for the Habs. Firmly in the mix as an Eastern Conference contender, the club didn’t feel the need to make a big summer splash — in fact, based on the Flynn and Mitchell and Petry contracts, it could be argued that Bergevin’s upgrading happened on Mar. 2, not July 1.

Stars re-sign towering d-man Oleksiak: one year, $875,000

Dallas has re-upped with one of the largest players in the league — 6-foot-7, 250-pound rearguard Jamie Oleksiak.

Oleksiak, 22, agreed to a one-year contract extension on Thursday, the club announced. The deal comes after Oleksiak split time between Dallas and AHL Texas last year, scoring eight points in 36 games for the Stars.

The club’s first-round pick (14th overall) at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Oleksiak took a one-year pact for $875,000 (per the Dallas Morning News), opting for less term and slightly less money than fellow Stars d-men Patrik Nemeth and Jyrki Jokipakka took. In June, that pair signed matching two-year, $1.8 million deals with average annual cap hits of $900,000.

Though he’s still relatively young, Oleksiak is heading into something of a “prove it” campaign. He was picked ahead of some other noteworthy d-men in ’11 — like Nathan Beaulieu, Connor Murphy and Oscar Klefbom — and all three of them have played more games at the NHL level than Oleksiak.

 

Report: Habs have offered Bournival a one-year, two-way deal

With Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu signed to multi-year extensions, the Montreal Canadiens have turned their attention to Michael Bournival.

According to Richard Labbe of La Presse, the Habs have extended a one-year, two-way qualifying offer to Bournival.

The 23-year-old’s three-year, $2.7 million entry-level deal is set to expire on July 1 making him a restricted free agent.

Bournival appeared in 29 games with the Canadiens during the 2014-15 season scoring three goals and five points to go along with a plus-4 rating while averaging 7:53 a night in ice time. In 12 games with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, Bournival scored three goals and nine points.

Originally a third-round pick (71st overall) by the Colorado Avalanche in 2010, Bournival was acquired by the Canadiens in exchange for Ryan O’Byrne in November 2010.

Related: Report: Habs’ Galchenyuk fires agent Igor Larionov

Habs hand Torrey Mitchell a three-year deal reportedly worth $3.6M

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Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin was once considered a prankster, yet he doesn’t seem like a procrastinator. He continued his run of early offseason work on Monday, signing depth forward Torrey Mitchell to a three-year deal.

Various reporters including ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun tab the deal at $3.6 million total, or $1.2 million per season.

Whatever the final cap ceiling will be, it doesn’t look like Montreal will have much space to make splashes in free agency this summer (unless they move away some salary). Bergevin gave up much of Montreal’s breathing room in re-signing Mitchell, Jeff Petry and Nathan Beaulieu.

Some wonder if three years is too much term for Mitchell, 30, although the money isn’t disastrous. He’s seeing a noteworthy drop in cap hit from $1.9 million, actually.

Bergevin can’t just go fishing all summer just yet, however, as the Habs still need to sign rising RFA Alex Galchenyuk (and also do that whole “drafting” thing). Many of the team’s pending moves have been settled pretty early on, though.