Pierre-Luc Dubois

NHL Power Rankings: Most intriguing restricted free agent situations

NHL Power Rankings
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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus to the upcoming class of restricted free agents for the 2022 offseason.

Specifically, we are looking at the most intriguing RFA situations that need to be settled.

Just to emphasize this at the front: These rankings are not a ranking of the best RFAs in terms of who is the better player or the best players. They are a ranking of the most interesting situations regarding team salary cap space, what type of contract the player might be looking for, how much the team should (or can) invest, whether or not a trade is an option, no qualifying offer, or even potentially an offer sheet. Yeah, that is a very subjective ranking. But these are the NHL Power Rankings after all.

Which restricted free agents are we most intrigued by this summer?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!!

1. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames. How the Flames navigate this offseason is going to be fascinating to watch because they have some major players up for new contracts including Tkachuk (RFA), Andrew Mangiapane (RFA), and Johnny Gaudreau (UFA). How are they going to navigate all of this? Gaudreau and Tkachuk were one of the best duos in the league this season and completely dominant together on the Flames’ top line. Tkachuk should be in line for a major extension, but with only $26 million in cap space to fill half of a roster how can they pay him and still manage to keep Gaudreau and build a deep team around them? Going to be aa challenge.

2. Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild. Speaking of challenges, say hello to the Minnesota Wild. Fiala has been one of the Wild’s best players since coming over in a trade with Nashville and he is due for a new contract this offseason as an RFA. But the Wild’s salary cap situation is a mess for the next couple of years and is going to take some major creativity to keep the players they want. Do they deal somebody else (Matt Dumba?) to keep Fiala? Or does Fiala get dealt to somebody else that has more salary cap space to pay him?

[Related: Wild can survive salary cap crunch, but can they thrive?]

3. Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have a pretty good long-term outlook with Cole Sillinger, Zach Werenski, Adam Boqvist, and another top-six pick this season as a potential long-term core. Laine is the guy that can really be a game-changer for them. He rebounded in a huge way this season and started to again look like the superstar he was on track to be early in his career. But can the Blue Jackets get him signed to a long-term deal? If they can, that is one heck of a building block for your core.

4. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Winnipeg Jets. Like Laine (the player he was traded for), Dubois had a nice bounce back season in Winnipeg and is due for a new contract this offseason. Contract talks have reportedly not begun yet leading to some speculation that he could be on the trade block again. His size, skill, and age make him an intriguing player because he has No. 1 center ability.

5. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks are a fascinating team this offseason because nobody really knows what direction they are going in. They were much improved under Bruce Boudreau, but they still have some salary cap complications and have an entirely new front office that might want to shake things up. Boeser was reportedly on the trade block at times this past season. Could he be there again this summer?

6. Jason Robrertson, Dallas Stars. The intrigue here: How much is he going to get? Robertson has become the engine that drives the Stars and he is already blossoming into one of the league’s must-see star talents. Dallas should be locking him up now.

[Related: Jason Robertson is engine that drives the Stars]

7. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals. What are the Capitals going to do in goal? They have tried the Samsonov-Vitek Vanecek duo for two years now with unspectacular results and both are restricted free agents this offseason. Samsonov was supposed to be the goalie of the future but things have simply not worked out that way at all. What sort of investment do you even make here?

8. Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers. Puljujarvi has become an excellent player for the Oilers that does everything reasonably well. Every line he plays on is better with him on it. The only problem: He does not actually score a lot of the goals himself. That can still change, and if it does, the Oilers have another star on their hands. This might be a case where a long-term deal could end up being team-friendly for the Oilers in the future.

9. Andrew Mangiapane, Calgary Flames. Mangiapane has gotten progressively better each year he has been in the league and had a breakout season this year for the Flames. He is one of their many players due for a new contract this offseason and will further complicate their offseason. This is a situation where if offer sheets were more prevalent he would be a good target.

10. Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars. Oettinger ended up taking over the Stars’ No. 1 goalie spot and was their best player in the playoffs, nearly stealing a series against the Calgary Flames. His track record to this point is still relatively limited. How bold do the Stars get here with a new contract?

[NHL Power Rankings: Top potential 2022 unrestricted free agents]

11. Dylan Strome, Chicago Blackhawks. Strome has become a solid player for Chicago, but the Blackhawks short-term outlook is such a mess you really can not be sure that anybody on the roster is safe from a trade. Is he somebody that Chicago thinks can still contribute to its next playoff team? Or does he have more trade value this offseason than actual on-ice value on a new contract?

12. Kasperi Kapanen, Pittsburgh Penguins. All of the talent, and the Penguins have invested a ton of resources and assets in him, but the production is just not consistent. He came on strong late in the season and the playoffs, but was that enough to get him a qualifying offer and new contract in an offseason where the Penguins have some major decisions to make?

13. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. One of the many young players in Carolina with high upside that has helped make them one of the best teams in the league. Basically I just want to see Montreal and Carolina continue their offer sheet battle with another one this offseason.

14. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Igor Shesterkin is obviously the guy in New York (duh), but what is Georgiev’s future? He has a ton of talent, but his production was not there this season. Could he still be a starter for somebody? Does he have trade value to the Rangers?

15. Filip Zadina, Detroit Red Wings. Zadina just has not quite put it together for the Red Wings, and he is starting to reach an age where it is going to have to happen sooner rather than later. Is he still part of their long-term future? And in what role?

16. Denis Gurianov, Dallas Stars. When Gurianov is on the ice good things tend to happen. But the Stars do not usually put him on the ice as much as they should. I want to see what he can do with a fresh start somewhere else. Update: Gurianov re-signed with the Dallas Stars on one-year, $2.9 million contract on Tuesday afternoon. 

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

17. Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils. Bratt has been a good young player for the Devils for a few years now, but he really took a massive step forward this season. Are the Devils confident he is going to be that player going forward? If they are, this is the time to sign him long-term.

18. Arturri Lehkonen, Colorado Avalanche. Lehkonen is an absolutely perfect fit for the way the Avalanche play and has been a wonderful addition to this roster. But Colorado has a ton of free agents this offseason (both restricted and unrestricted) and has to figure out how to juggle all of that. Where does Lehkonen fit in that mix beyond this season?

19. Joshua Norris, Ottawa Senators. Norris has become a key part of the Senators’ core and is helping to make the Erik Karlsson trade look like a significant win for them. They have locked up several of their young players to long-term deals. Norris should join that group, and it should not be a problem to make that happen.

20. Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings. After scoring at a 10-15 goal pace over the first few years of his career, Kempe was one of the Kings players to break out this season with a 35-goal effort to help drive them to a surprising playoff berth. He is still 25 years old, right in his peak years for production, and the Kings have taken a step forward and should be consistent playoff contenders. The question for the Kings is can they count on him to consistently score 30 goals, or was this season an outlier?

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    Keeping Scheifele likely makes more sense to Jets than a trade

    Keeping Scheifele likely makes more sense to Jets than a trade
    Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

    After the Jets missed the playoffs, center Mark Scheifele raised eyebrows when asked about his future with the team. He uttered phrases such as “I just have to understand where this team is going” and “I have to think about my career and what’s going to be best for me.”

    Some took those early May Scheifele comments as more than a hint about wanting a trade from the Jets.

    Yet, in a follow-up May 7 edition of “32 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman noted that Scheifele did not request a trade from the Jets.

    What about the Jets’ perspective on a Scheifele trade? At the Scouting Combine, eternal Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger that he expects Scheifele to return to the team for the 2022-23 season.

    “Yeah, I do,” Cheveldayoff told Zeisberger recently. “My exit interview with Mark went well. Again, it was an emotional time for everybody. We asked [our players] to wear their emotions in the exits, and I think they were very productive.”

    [Looking back at a disappointing season for the Jets]

    Now, if we’ve learned anything from GMs like Marc Bergevin, these situations can turn on a dime. (Or, you know, they were just hiding a future move.)

    Yet, despite being named the Jets, Winnipeg’s NHL team moves about as rapidly as molasses. So it’s reasonable to believe that there’s a decent chance the Jets will not trade Scheifele.

    Here’s why that’s reasonable enough, but there are also a ton of questions about “where this team is going.”

    The good and bad with Mark Scheifele

    When it comes to Scheifele and other Jets players, it’s striking just how extreme their underlying numbers are. We’re talking about the sort of strong offense that produces elite scoring numbers (Scheifele’s been a point-per-game player essentially since 2016-17). Unfortunately, Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and other top Jets offensive players give up just about as much as they produce.

    This tweet compiled four player cards from Evolving Hockey to capture the jarring strengths and weakness of Scheifele, Connor, Blake Wheeler, and (to an extent) Nikolaj Ehlers.

    Going year-by-year with Scheifele and others, there have been some troubling underlying numbers for four campaigns. With Scheifele on the ice at 5-on-5, the Jets have controlled 45.22% or fewer of the high-danger chances the past four seasons, and they’ve been under 50% in scoring chances and expected goals.

    Scheifele’s skill makes up some difference (the Jets have more or less broke even in 5-on-5 goals for and against during that span), but you’d hope for better results from top players.

    To be clear, the blame doesn’t lie on Scheifele’s shoulders alone. Again, Connor’s numbers are remarkably similar, and lately, Wheeler’s offense has been sinking.

    Is it all worth it? I’d still say yes.

    [Islanders stunned the hockey world by firing Barry Trotz]

    Consider The Athletic’s “market value” readings in their Player Cards as one example. That estimate places Scheifele’s “value” at $7.9 million, so even in tough times, he still “beats” his $6.125M cap hit.

    There’s some key questions, though:

    • How much are Connor and Scheifele “cheating” on defense to create offense? If, say, Barry Trotz coached this team, could they gain a better balance?
    • Would Scheifele, Ehlers, and others be the type of players Trotz might sour on?

    Now, ponder the Jets’ salary cap situation, which provides the clearest argument against a Scheifele trade — for now.

    Jets’ salary cap situation justifies avoiding a Scheifele trade (this offseason)

    Structurally, the Jets could get away with giving their core a two-year window. However, if you want to thread the needle between being proactive and not overreacting, then maybe you view 2022-23 as a make-or-break for this core.

    Scheifele is 29, and his $6.125M cap hit expires after 2023-24. Flawed or not, it’s easier to imagine him delivering value to the Jets by sticking around, rather than whatever they’d receive in a trade-low scenario.

    [PHT’s latest Power Rankings]

    Crucially, Connor Hellebuyck (also 29) carries almost the same cap hit ($6.16667M) for two more seasons. On the Hellebuyck trade rumbling front, he indicated he’s on board as long as this isn’t a rebuild.

    Nikolaj Ehlers, 26, is sorely underrated, and a nice bargain at $6M for three more seasons. The Jets face an RFA challenge with Pierre-Luc Dubois, but it makes sense to at least stall with the 23-year-old.

    Ideally, the Jets would hope a coaching change could optimize a skilled, reasonably cost-efficient core of Hellebuyck, Ehlers, Connor, Dubois, Josh Morrissey, and possibly Scheifele.

    Beyond begging Barry Trotz to clean this up (or, uh, hoping for the best with … Scott Arniel?), the Jets could conceivably make some other moves to shake things up. Do note that the Jets seemingly only shake things up when they have to, such as when people resign.

    Nonetheless …

    Jets moves that likely make more sense than a Scheifele trade

    Over the last few years, the Jets have squandered Hellebuyck’s elite goaltending, yet he’s still a massive bargain through 2023-24. After that, all bets are off.

    Blake Wheeler’s a thorny subject. In two different articles worth reading, the Athletic’s Murat Ates:

    • Fielded a mailbag question about there being some tension between Wheeler and Scheifele.
    • In a different article, Ates indicated that Wheeler’s status as a longtime Jets fixture would make a trade unlikely.

    Starting this offseason, Blake Wheeler’s contract goes from having a no-movement clause to merely a five-team no-trade list.

    Trading Wheeler may require “bribing” a partner with picks and/or prospects. Again, it might be too thorny a political move from a Jets organization with a weak stomach for bold moves.

    The years haven’t been kind to the 35-year-old, though, and moving that $8.25M could really open up options.

    If that’s a no-go, his contract also lasts two more years. Theoretically, that money could go to raises for Scheifele and/or Hellebuyck. So there’s that, at least.

    [Check out the Jets’ salary structure, free agents at Cap Friendly]

    Beyond Scheifele, Wheeler, and Dubois, the Jets face other offseason questions. Their backup situation isn’t totally clear. Mason Appleton ranks among their lower free agents (beyond Dubois), while Paul Stastny is a UFA at age 36.

    Could the Jets wiggle out of a defensive contract by trading someone like Nate Schmidt or Brenden Dillon?

    There are a lot of different ways things can go for the Jets. While there’s an argument for blowing things up, and a Scheifele trade could accelerate a rebuild, the Jets may be better off hoping they can get more out of players like him.

    NHL Power Rankings: Non-playoff teams most likely to return to playoffs next year

    NHL Power Rankings
    Zak Krill, Getty Images

    In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the 16 teams that missed the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and which ones have the best chance to make the postseason in 2023.

    Every year there is at least one playoff team that missed the previous season (this season we have four: Rangers, Kings, Stars, and Flames) so it is a good bet that at least one of these teams will back in the playoffs next season.

    Some of them might seem like easy bets. Some of them might be real long shots. But we take a look at them all. Obviously, the offseason moves will play a role here, but these teams have enough pieces in place that we should have at least some idea as to which teams have a realistic chance and which teams do not.

    Where does your non-playoff team rank?

    To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

    1. Vegas Golden Knights. I am not in a charitable mood when it comes to the 2021-22 Golden Knights and will not listen to excuses. A lot of their problems were by their own creation, and they were not the only team that had to deal with significant injuries to core players. Many others (Pittsburgh, Washington, Colorado) overcame them. Having said that, this is still an excellent team on paper, they missed the playoffs by just three points, and should — should! — be able to return next season. If they miss two years in a row then there is a major problem somewhere in that organization.

    [Related: Golden Knights have nobody to blame but themselves]

    2. Winnipeg Jets. I had way higher expectations for this team this season, and the talent is absolutely there in a lot of important places. They still need to upgrade their defense, but I am not going to rule out a team that has Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Connor Hellebuyck on it.

    3. New York Islanders. Might have had them ahead of the Jets before the firing of Barry Trotz. Not sure there is another coach that is going to get more out of this group, and I am not sure how they significantly change the roster. Goaltending is the thing that will give them their best chance.

    4. Columbus Blue Jackets. I like this team a lot more than most people and think they can be a real sleeper team going into next season. The Seth Jones trade has a chance to set them up for a long time, while Patrik Laine and Zach Werenski are legit top-line line players. A strong bounce back year from Elvis Merzlikins would be significant. The problem: Somebody else in the East would have to miss the playoffs. Who are they going to jump over? Even with that I think they are a factor next season.

    5. Vancouver Canucks. Total mystery! Who is going to be their coach? No idea! If it is Bruce Boudreau, I like their chances. If it is not, who know? Will they trade one of their core pieces? How do they add to the roster with the salary cap situation? A lot of questions here, but also a lot of talent. They also play in the right division for a potential bounce back.

    6. Anaheim Ducks. They took a nice step this season before running out of steam in the second half. Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, and Troy Terry is a nice core. John Gibson can still be good. There are some pieces here. Also, like Vancouver, the right division for a bounce back.

    7. Detroit Red Wings. The pressure has to be on here. Like Anaheim they looked like a team that took a big step forward in the first half before taking a step back in the second half. Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider, Dylan Larkin, and Jakub Vrana are outstanding, but they have to do something about the depth and goaltending. The good news: They have a ton of salary cap space to work with. The bad news: There is a significant gap between them and the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

    [Related: Pondering Red Wings’ offseason after letting Blashill go]

    8. Buffalo Sabres. I do not know how much I fully buy into their play down the stretch or how much that will carry over to next season. I also question if Tage Thompson flirts with 40 goals again. But there are some pieces here, and they seem to have done very well for themselves with the Jack Eichel trade.

    9. New Jersey Devils. A lot of good young talent here and some salary cap space to play with. But like Detroit and Buffalo they have a ton of ground to make up. Fixing the goaltending has to be at the top of the list.

    10. San Jose Sharks. They seem to still believe their window for contention is open and that they can return to the playoffs. I do not see that happening. 

    11. Montreal Canadiens. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong this season went wrong. But even if more things go right next season, is this anything close to a playoff roster?

    12. Ottawa Senators. They are not without talent and promising players, but it is hard to see them taking a meaningful step forward this season. So many holes, so many other good teams around them.

    13. Seattle Kraken. Ah, yes, this is what a normal expansion team is supposed to look like. So many missed opportunities in the expansion draft. It is going to be an actual building process here.

    14. Philadelphia Flyers. You get the sense ownership and management thinks this team is better than it actually is. That is a problem.

    [NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 First Round schedule, TV info]

    15. Arizona Coyotes. Even in the Pacific Division this team is far away from contending. This is a long, long, long, long-term rebuild.

    16. Chicago Blackhawks. This team has some lean years ahead of it, and if it is smart, it will dismantle what is left of the core this offseason if it still can.

    Long-standing problems doomed Jets in 2021-22; What can they fix?

    Long-standing problems doomed Jets in 2021-22; What can they fix?
    Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

    PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how surprising was that fall? Are there signs that things might go right next season? This series tackles those questions, and more. In the latest edition of “What Went Wrong?,” PHT breaks down the 2021-22 Winnipeg Jets

    After making it to the 2018 Western Conference Final, it seemed like the Winnipeg Jets were a team with one of the brightest futures in all of the NHL. Considering the younger parts of that roster, it looked like they were set up for even bigger successes down the line. The 2021-22 season may be the bleakest reminder that the Jets haven’t hit that mark, but this franchise’s foundation has been wobbly for much longer.

    After this painful 2021-22 season, the Jets are forced to reckon with a question many of us have been asking on and off since 2018-19.  How much of their failures fall on coaching vs. players who may simply be flawed defensively?

    As with many debates in life, the truest answer could be somewhere in the middle. There are also other areas to consider, such as how the Jets develop prospects.

    That said, there’s only so much you can improve during on offseason, particularly with limited cap space and a market that’s not exactly beloved by free agents. It’s crucial for the Jets to learn as much as they can from the 2021-22 season, as there’s still at least some room to dream about getting that aircraft back on its once-promising trajectory.

    Jets defense didn’t get much better in 2021-22

    By adding a competent defenseman like Brenden Dillon and hoping for a Nate Schmidt redemption, the Jets approached 2021-22 with hope for an improved blueline.

    To some degree, you could argue that Winnipeg improved a bit on defense. Unfortunately, you’d measure the upgrades by baby steps instead of leaps. Check their 5-on-5 defensive Hockey Viz charts side by side:


    Fundamentally, the 2021-22 Jets were left relying on a familiar, failing formula. Hope your skilled players outscore their mistakes, and ask Connor Hellebuyck to clean up far too many messes.

    Blake Wheelers’ two-way flaws have been fodder for a while now. There have also been rumblings about Mark Scheifele‘s mix of terrific offense and arguably terrible defense. It’s jarring, though, to ponder Wheeler, Scheifele, Kyle Connor, and even Nikolaj Ehlers struggling to such extremes.

    Don’t take that as a total condemnation, mind you. Generally speaking, Connor, Ehlers, and Scheifele bring more to the table than they take away. The Athletic’s Player Cards capture the overall gains from that push-and-pull.

    Winnipeg must hope that it’s the system

    If nothing else, the 2021-22 Jets and other recent iterations already emphasized sheltering Connor, Scheifele, and others defensively. At least this isn’t a case of Paul Maurice (and then Dave Lowry) deploying poor two-way players as if they were Selke candidates.

    So, it circles back to a question of structure. Maybe there’s only so much you can do with the likes of Connor, Ehlers, Wheeler, Scheifele, and a similarly-performing Pierre-Luc Dubois. But it’s troubling to see a decline for a supporting cast member like Brenden Dillon.

    Can a coach turn that around? Will they find the right balance between improving that defense without stifling some skilled forwards too much? Some hope for another Darryl Sutter-type turnaround, but for all we know, Sutter might’ve struggled with this collection of players.

    Jets only have so much room for offseason movement

    Finding a coach to install a sturdier system is the overarching dream for the Jets after the 2021-22 season.

    There’s also a pragmatic element to emphasizing coaching as an area of improvement. At the moment, it doesn’t look like the Jets have a lot of wiggle room to get better via trades or free agency.

    Via Cap Friendly, the Jets approach the offseason with about $16.2M in salary cap space. That number is deceptive, however.

    For one thing, that projected $66.3M in cap spending is only penciled in for 15 roster spots. Pierre-Luc Dubois accounted for a $5M cap hit this season, and he’s a pending RFA with arbitration rights. The Jets will either need to pay up in some form for a new contract, or possibly trade Dubois. They also might want to bring back steady 36-year-old forward Paul Stastny on another 35+ contract.

    Trades may be the easiest option, but not easy, either

    Improving their defensive personnel might come down to trading someone.

    At the moment, the Jets have the same $26.8M earmarked for defensemen that they handed out in 2021-22. Would they part ways with someone like Nate Schmidt ($5.95M), Neal Pionk ($5.875M), Brenden Dillon ($3.9M), or Dylan DeMelo ($3M)? For what it’s worth, Schmidt’s the only defenseman in that group with any sort of trade clause.

    It’s fair to at least ask if the Jets might broach the subject of a change of scenery for Blake Wheeler, too. Wheeler, 35, has significant trade protection on a deal that carries an $8.25M cap hit through 2023-24. Considering his season-ending comments, maybe Wheeler would be on board with a trade, and open up to more than five teams?

    In some — if not all — of those cases, the Jets may struggle to gain much value in return. To trade Wheeler, they may need to bribe someone in hopes of merely gaining cap space.

    Barring something bold like a Jakob Chychrun trade, there are only so many moves that would really make a positive difference. The dream once again returns to a coach waving a magic wand and installing a better system.

    Not a ton of answers for Jets in free agency

    Let’s say the Jets either gain some cap space via trade, or set things up for a single free agent splurge. Would that even be a wise decision?

    • A desperate Jets team might take a swing at John Klingberg. Yet, at this point in his career, you could argue that Klingberg profiles as a microcosm of the Jets themselves. Generally, Klingberg still provides offensive skill, but his defensive game is lacking. Perhaps the Jets could just really go for broke, hoping they can replicate some of the Florida Panthers spirit. But would that plan too easily dismiss what Florida does well?
    • Out of context, Nazem Kadri is the sort of efficient player who could tie the Jets’ roster together in a more cohesive way. In the context of Kadri’s incredible All-Star season, he’s likely to drive his price up to the point where whatever team who signs him will then ask him to do far too much.

    Now, there are scenarios where a free agent splash might make sense for the Jets. If the price isn’t too steep for Claude Giroux, he could conceivably help this team with his sharp two-way acumen. And if you’re just throwing a Hail Mary, Johnny Gaudreau‘s a legit star who has some chance of hitting the free agent market.

    Realistically, the Jets should try to patch up weak depth by making savvy moves in the bargain bin. (One of the many areas where it’s fair to wonder if GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is the right person for the job.)

    While there’s room to work on the fringes, the central discussion remains the same. The Jets need to improve from within, by getting better results from players up and down their roster. Ideally, they’d pull that off while Connor Hellebuyck still ranks among the NHL’s best goalies.

    The best way to do that is to find a coach to stitch it all together. Frankly, it’s fair to wonder if the Jets have ever had that going for them.

    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.

    NHL COVID update: Hughes brothers, Malkin enter protocol

    Jack Hughes
    Andy Marlin, Getty Images

    The NHL is set to return from the 2022 All-Star break on Monday and a couple of prominent players — including an All-Star — were entered into the league’s COVID protocols.

    Evgeni Malkin enters COVID protocol

    After missing the first half of the season as he recovered from offseason surgery, Evgeni Malkin was able to work his way back into the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup in the middle of January. It briefly gave them a complete roster for the first time all season. But as soon as that happened more injuries started to mount (Jason Zucker, Teddy Blueger) and now Malkin himself has been entered into the league’s COVID protocol on Monday.

    In 12 games this season Malkin has 13 points (five goals, eight assists) for the Penguins. With Malkin and Blueger sidelined for Tuesday’s game against the Boston Bruins it definitely puts a bit of a dent in their center depth. Jeff Carter will almost certainly move into the second-line role with Malkin sidelined, while it could also temporarily shift Evan Rodrigues back to center where he excelled earlier this season.

    Hughes brothers enter protocol

    After participating in the NHL All-Star weekend in Vegas, New Jersey Devils forward Jack Hughes was placed into the league’s COVID protocols on Monday.

    It continues what has been a tough season for Hughes who already missed a significant portion of it due to injury.

    That announcement from the Devils comes on the same day as his brother, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes, was also placed into the league’s COVID protocol.

    [Related: NHL injury update: Eichel cleared for contact; Rask not practicing this week]

    Winnipeg Jets place three players in COVID protocol

    The Winnipeg Jets announced on Monday that they have placed three players in the league’s COVID protocol: Defenseman, Neal Pionk, forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, and forward Austin Poganski.

    Pionk and Dubois are the most significant names here as they are two of the Jets’ most productive and best players.

    They have three games this week and are currently mired in a slump that has seen them lose eight out of their past 10 games. They are now on the Western Conference playoff bubble where they are barely hanging on to their postseason chances.

    Alex Ovechkin could play on Tuesday if he is cleared

    Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin was unable to participate in the 2022 All-Star weekend after he entered the league’s COVID protocols this past week.

    Head coach Peter Laviolette said on Monday that Ovechkin could play in Tuesday’s game if he tests out of the protocol before then.

    That did not happen on Monday as he was not with the team at practice.

    While his status for Tuesday’s game is not yet determined, it is already known that he will not be able to play in Thursday’s game in Montreal because he will not yet be allowed to travel to Canada following his positive test less than a week ago.