Paul Maurice not impressed with Jets’ effort in Montreal

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The Winnipeg Jets have been one of the best teams in the NHL for the better part of the last two seasons. This year, many expected them to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and they have been, but Thursday’s performance in Montreal left a lot to be desired.

“We don’t have it happen very often,” said head coach Paul Maurice said after the 5-2 loss. “It’s almost in some ways easier to process this and to get ready for Ottawa, because it’s not like a guy let you down or you played your a– off and the goalie let you down. When I said we were no good, the coach is in on that too. We were all horse—t tonight. Big time.

“The coach was no good, the players were no good, the food was no good. We just hope that the plane works.”

That last line is especially terrific.

Maurice’s assessment of the game is very accurate. If netminder Connor Hellebuyck didn’t make five or six outstanding saves, the final score would have been way uglier than what it was. The Jets were simply the second best team on the ice all night.

The Jets bench boss didn’t single anyone out, but there’s two things that jump off the page if you’re a Winnipeg fan.

The top line of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler was severely outplayed by the Canadiens’ first line, which consists of Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin. The Jets clearly have the more talented line, but they were outworked and hemmed into their own end from the start of the game until the very end.

Each member of the Scheifele line finished with a CF% between 39 percent and 42 percent. They were on the ice for one high-danger scoring chance for and seven against. Like we said, they were totally dominated from top to bottom. Connor managed to score the game’s first goal, but that was partly because of a terrible line changes from Montreal.

They should be able to bounce back in Ottawa on Saturday.

Anyway, moving on.

The other thing that is far too noticeable regarding the Jets, is how invisible Patrik Laine has been.

Here’s how Canadiens play-by-play voice Dan Robertson described Laine’s game last night:

Robertson’s points are all accurate. Nothing Laine did worked and it appears as though this has been the case for a while now. Let’s be clear, nobody should be worried about the way he’s playing, but the Jets have to find a way to get his season back on the rails.

He’s on pace to score 38 goals, which is still awesome. They just need him to step up his production, especially when the first line has an off night.

Sure, the Jets can wait it out with Laine. That will probably work. But they might just have to go out and get him a new linemate via trade. Can they squeeze Matt Duchene or Mark Stone out of Ottawa? Would they be willing to land Artemi Panarin as a pure rental? We’ll find out before the end of the month.

Even though they’re 3-3-1 dating back to Jan. 19, no one in Winnipeg should be panicking about this team. They’re still in top spot in the Central Division and they have the assets to make a significant deal before Feb. 25. They’ll be fine, but they have to move passed Thursday night’s ugly performance as soon as possible.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: More Ovechkin history; Blue Jackets end skid

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League-changing contract?

In case you missed it, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed superstar Auston Matthews to a beefy five-year extension. Should you be worried about the salary cap implications?

Three Stars

1. Brendan Gallagher

If the dwindling Ducks struggled in part because of the fatigue that comes with closing off a back-to-back, then credit Gallagher and the Habs for taking advantage of that waddling with a strong start.

Gallagher and fellow top-three star Jonathan Drouin did much of their damage in the first period of Tuesday’s 4-1 win. Gallagher scored a goal and two assists, with a goal and an assist in the opening frame, and then a secondary assist early in the third.

The rambunctious winger generated a +3 rating, two shots on goal, and two assists in that win. Gallagher now has 21 goals this season, building off a tremendous 31-goal campaign from 2017-18, when he was one of Montreal’s few bright spots. Things are sunnier these days.

[The Ducks’ nightmare continued on Tuesday thanks to the Canadiens.]

2. Anze Kopitar

While Gallagher and Drouin did their damage early, Kopitar was the catalyst of a dominant third period for Los Angeles.

All three of Kopitar’s assists came during the final frame, transforming a tied 1-1 game to a 5-1 laugher. Speaking of laughers, Kopitar set up a revenge goal for Ilya Kovalchuk. It also helps that Kopitar’s three assists were all primary ones.

[Read more about Kovalchuk’s return to New Jersey in this post.]

3. Jonathan Drouin

Like Kopitar, Drouin’s three assists were all of the primary variety. This thought gives him a slight advantage over another three-point performance in Roman Josi, as the Predators standout enjoyed a one-goal, two-assists output … but his goal was an empty-netter.

(You have to split hairs with the three stars most nights.)

Drouin now has seven points in his past five games, giving him 39 points in 53 contests overall in his second season with Montreal.

Highlights of the Night

Patrice Bergeron had already scored a goal in his 1,000th game, but David Pastrnak earned serious Good Teammate Points by dropping this pass to him for an empty-netter. If you’ve had a bad Internet day or night, this might be precious enough to raise your spirits.

This is what scientists would call “trickeration.”
Some of the best goals happen when players combine in downright harmonic ways.
In this one, Sergei Bobrovsky makes a tough save on an aggressive Tyson Barrie. From there, Artemi Panarin fires off the sort of breakout pass that would inspire Erik Karlsson to tip his cap. After that, Cam Atkinson makes a fantastic move to score his 29th goal of the season.
Brent Burns and the San Jose Sharks have been killing it in OT lately. This time, Burns set up Joe Pavelski for the clincher:
Factoids

Scores

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

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

Fists fly in Winnipeg: Wheeler and Chiarot exchange pleasantries in practice altercation

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WINNIPEG — The gloves came off at Winnipeg Jets practice on Saturday.

A small scuffle that involved a couple of Jets players ensued after a point shot was taken by Blake Wheeler during a drill. That melee turned into fists being tossed between Wheeler and Jets defensemen Ben Chiarot, with Wheeler being sent to the dressing room by coach Paul Maurice after the fight broke up.

“It’s just boys being boys,” said Chiarot, who had a small cut on his nose after practice. “Tempers get up. Intensity in practice is always a good thing and that’s something we’re trying to bring here before the playoffs. I look at it as a good thing.”

Wheeler didn’t speak to the media following being sent off. He appeared to be sporting a welt over his left eye and tossed his helmet into the Jets bench before heading down the tunnel.

The Jets own a 10-point stranglehold on the second seed in the Central Division and appear set for their first playoff appearance in three seasons.

Winnipeg notched its 100th point of the season on Friday in a 3-2 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks.

Mark Scheifele, who was in the vicinity, said he was just an innocent bystander in the ordeal.

“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I was just sitting in the slot, I don’t know if I had anything (to do with it.)”

Paul Maurice watched the fracas from center ice but didn’t say anything until Wheeler’s glove’s game off, at which point he yelled for the pair to stop.

“You’d like a few more of those during the year if you could,” Maurice said after practice.

When pressed as to why, Maurice spoke of keeping the intensity level high throughout the season.

“Our theory in how we practice is really short, as fast as we can, a full-contact sport,” Maurice said. “In the games, somebody gets an elbow up, somebody gets a piece of someone that happens and occasionally in practice that’s going to happen. It’s all good.”

Jets forward Adam Lowry said players were already moved on to the joking phase following the altercation.

“They might be mad at each other for 10 minutes, but you don’t expect a grudge to be held too long,” Lowry said. “I’m sure (by Sunday), they’ll be laughing about it.”

Asked if there would be any repercussions for either player, Maurice shared a joke.

“There will be no family meeting tomorrow,” he said. 


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