Tucker Poolman

Report: Jets, Byfuglien working toward contract termination

The Winnipeg Jets and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien are headed toward a solution.

According to a report from TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the Jets and Byfuglien are closing in on a mutual contract termination that will officially end his time with the franchise.

Byfuglien has not played for the Jets this season after stepping away from the team just before training camp to contemplate his future. The Jets officially suspended him, while Byfuglien filed a grievance in November arguing that he should have still been paid as he was recovering from a hockey injury.  He underwent ankle surgery in October.

He has played for the organization since the start of the 2010-11 season when it was still based in Atlanta.

During his time with the team has been one of the league’s most productive offensive defensemen and the foundation of the Jets’ blue line. He was limited to just 42 games a year ago due to injury, but the Jets were still planning on him playing a significant role on this year’s team. But as training camp approached he stepped away from the team, leaving an already undermanned Jets’ defense without its best and most impactful player.

That came after the Jets had traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers and saw Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot exit in free agency.

If the two sides eventually come to an agreement on a contract termination, Byfuglien would become an unrestricted free agent, while the Jets would clear a significant amount of salary cap space before the trade deadline and for next season. Byfuglien’s current contract carries a salary cap hit of $7.6 million per season.

What comes next for Jets, Byfuglien

The big thing here for the Jets is that it would finally give them some clarity on their defense, what they need, and what they have to work with.

They would know for sure that Byfuglien is not returning, and it would also create a ton of salary cap flexibility for the offseason to fill that spot and upgrade the entire position. As of now, the only defensemen the Jets have under contract for next season are Josh Morrissey, Neal Poink, Tucker Poolman, and Carl Dahlstrom. Not exactly a great situation. While Morrissey and Poink figure to be long-term pieces, Poolman and Dahlmstrom are both in their mid-20s and have limited NHL experience.

It would also create a serious of questions for Byfuglien that still need to be answered.

That includes whether or not he is healthy enough to play this season and if he actually wants to play this season. If the answer to both of those questions are yes, he could still be a potential difference-maker in the stretch run and into the playoffs assuming he is healthy. The age and health situation are legitimate concerns, but he was still one of the top point-producing defenseman in the league just last season when he was on the ice.

Putting him on a contending lineup (without having to give up anything in return) would be a pretty big addition for someone if it happens.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Jets furious over Minnesota’s controversial overtime winner

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The Winnipeg Jets are in a bit of a slump right now.

Their 3-2 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday was their eighth in the past 10 games, and saw them give up a crucial point to a team they are competing with for a playoff spot. Making things even more frustrating on Saturday is how they felt Eric Staal‘s winning goal shouldn’t have counted due to goaltender interference.

Here’s what happened: During a scramble in front of the net, Minnesota’s Zach Parise made contact with Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck just before Staal scored his 16th goal of the season. The play was reviewed by the situation room in Toronto, and it was determined that Jets players Anthony Bitetto and Tucker Poolman caused Parise to make the contact, thus allowing the goal to count.

You can see the play the video above.

There is definitely some contact between Bitetto and Poolman, but was it enough to force Parise into the goalie? Did Parise do enough to avoid making contact? Those are important questions, and given the way he stretches his arms and stick out and hits Hellebuyck it is not hard to see why the Jets are so mad about the call.

After the game Jets coach Paul Maurice said (Via the Winnipeg Sun) “It’s goalie interference all day long for me and there’s not a lot of grey area on that one.”

From there, he refused to offer any more comment on the play because anything else was going to get “expensive” for him.

The Jets exceeded expectations for much of the first half given the state of their defense. The play of Hellebuyck was one of the big driving factors in that early success. They are still holding the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, but they are very much on the postseason bubble.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Jets shut down Penguins despite makeshift defense

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PITTSBURGH — Thanks to trades, free agency departures, an injury, and some recent personal matters, the Winnipeg Jets’ defense has been completely decimated over the past six months, leaving them with a makeshift unit for their game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night against the Penguins.

None of their top-eight defenders in ice-time from a year ago were available on Tuesday, and the unit as a whole had just 350 total games of NHL experience. You would be forgiven if you did not give them much of a chance to win with that lineup, especially after giving up a goal to Sidney Crosby just 32 seconds into the first period.

They not only won, they completely shut down the Penguins and received three goals from their makeshift blue line on their way to an impressive 4-1 win to wrap up their season-opening four-game road trip.

“Those guys have worked really hard back there, they are learning every shift,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “I think the forwards did a nice job too, and what our forwards do well is cause enough concern deep in the offensive zone that they draw people off our back end, and that’s what happened on a number of those goals.”

The defense started making an impact just five minutes after Crosby’s goal when 18-year-old rookie Ville Heinola blasted a slap shot between Matt Murray‘s arm and body that trickled into the back of the net for his first NHL goal. Maurice was asked if a first career goal from a young player can help lift a bench send some positive energy around the lineup.

“It depends if they like the kid or not,” he said. “And they really like this guy. He has a big smile on his face, he works really hard, and the players always respect talent. He does so many good little things that the guys on the ice appreciate.”

Heinola played 17:24 in the win, finishing as a plus-three along with the goal. With Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot gone and Dustin Byfuglien‘s future unsettled, the Jets are going to have to lean on young defenders like Heinola and Neal Pionk to take on significant roles right from the start.

Pionk also scored a goal in the win, already his second with the team after coming over from the New York Rangers in the Trouba trade.

“It feels good,” said Pionk. “We have a younger D corps, but they are all here for a reason. We are all here for a reason. We have proved it at other levels. If play our system we are going to be alright.”

Given all of the issues and questions the Jets have had on their blue line, they still managed to wrap up their four-game road trip to open the season with two wins, and that is just fine with Maurice.

“I’m happy with it, missing the guys we have. Then they feel good, like the defense have done something to make that happen. They have played a big part in that. You play .500 on the road and win your home games you are a good team.”

The Jets open their home schedule on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Jets’ defense takes yet another blow ahead of game vs. Penguins

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When the Winnipeg Jets had their 2018-19 season end this past April, their defense was made up of the following players: Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and Dmitry Kulikov. Not a great group by any means, but a formidable one that was good enough to help make the Jets a playoff team.

How many of those players will be in the lineup for them on Tuesday night when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Zero.

None of them.

Due to a series of roster moves and unfortunate circumstances the entire defense the team used a year ago is not available as the team prepares to open its current four-game road trip.

Trouba, Myers, and Chiarot all left the team over the summer (Trouba was traded to the Rangers; Myers and Chiarot departed in free agency), while Byfuglien stepped away just before the start of training camp to reportedly consider his future in the NHL.

All of that alone was enough to decimate their blue line.

The departures continued on Tuesday when the Jets announced that Kulikov has been given a personal leave from the team.

Morrissey, meanwhile, suffered an injury during warmups before the team’s most recent game against the New York Islanders and was held out of Sunday’s game. After practicing on Monday, coach Paul Maurice announced on Tuesday that the team is going to hold Morrissey out for at least another game (Tuesday in Pittsburgh) as a precaution.

This all means the Jets’ defense on Tuesday is going to include Sami Niku, Carl Dahlstrom, Neal Pionk, Ville Heinola, Anthony Bitetto and Tucker Poolman.

Combined NHL games for those six players: 350.

Heinola, 18, was the team’s first-round draft pick this past season and has played just three games so far, while Dahlstrom was claimed on waivers a week ago from the Chicago Blackhawks. Pionk is the “experienced” member of that group and was acquired over the summer from the Rangers in the Trouba trade. Calling that group a “makeshift defense” would be a monumental understatement.

Even though they are facing a Penguins team that is without two of its top three centers (Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad) it is still a dangerous team offensively with the Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel occupying the top line.

The Jets’ defense was always going to be a massive question mark this season, and it just seems to keep finding ways to get even more shorthanded. Starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck is going to need to play the best hockey of his career to keep this thing together.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Is Jacob Trouba’s time in Winnipeg coming to an end?

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The Jacob Trouba saga may have taken another turn this weekend, and not one in the Winnipeg Jets’ direction.

For the short-term, Trouba will remain with the Jets, with player-elected arbitration ending in a one-year, $5.5 million contract awarded to the skilled defenseman. Should the Jets choose to accept these terms during their 48-hour window to do so — and they will — their top pairing with Trouba and Josh Morrissey (assuming the latter is also re-signed) remains intact for the coming season.

That’s the good news for the Jets.

The bad, however, is that after this coming season Trouba turns into a question mark.

It would seem that the 24-year-old is angling toward his exit from Winnipeg. He’s now two years away from unrestricted free agency and likely has this season left in Winnipeg before the Jets need to consider trading him to get the best return. Trading him now is an option, but not the best one if they’re serious about another Stanley Cup run in 2018-19.

Understandably, this perceived outcome has angered the local mob — many of whom have been uneasy about Trouba’s future ever since he publicly requested a trade two years ago.

Many believe his contract demands are elephantine. Trouba’s arbitration ruling is the half-way point between what the Jets offered ($4 million) and what Trouba wanted ($7 million). He’s publicly stated that he wants to stay in Winnipeg long-term, fronting that notion after the Jets were bounced from the playoffs and after his exit meeting with the team.

Since then, no long-term commitment from either side has been struck, leaving the player, his agent and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff at a standstill.

Whatever the reason for the lack of a long-term deal up to this point is up for debate. What isn’t being disputed is the unsettlement it has created among Winnipeg’s disgruntled fanbase. These things happen when you begrudgingly watch your beloved team leave for 15 years. Hockey is woven into the fabric of the city, a symbiotic relationship that, when threatened, lashes back in a subconscious reflex.

Some fans have already resigned themselves to losing Trouba. Some have already been in that boat for a couple years now. There’s an underlying fear among fans that spawns their anger. Trouba departing threatens what the team has grown into — a Stanley Cup contender. And he could derail their present, realistic goal — becoming a Stanley Cup champion.

These are ramifications that every Jets fan is acutely aware of.

Fear is powerful.

For his part, Cheveldayoff has done well to stick to his guns — both now, and back in 2016 when Trouba publicly protested for his exit through a written release from his agent, Kurt Overhardt.

Trouba didn’t get his wish then, and it appears Cheveldayoff isn’t caving to his contract demands now either. Winnipeg can’t be viewed as an organization that gets overrun by players and so far that hasn’t been the case. Keeping up those appearances might just mean Trouba gets traded after all, but only at the last possible, opportune moment for the team, not the player.

While fans might not agree, it’s tough to blame Trouba here. Players have every right to invoke their rights, whether it be arbitration, unrestricted free agency, or asking for an enormous sum of money when it comes to a contract. Careers are short in hockey and there’s money to be made and a future to secure.

At this point though, what Trouba wants and what he’s worth simply doesn’t line up.

Matt Dumba and the Minnesota Wild sorted out a five-year, $30 million deal over the weekend. Dumba had a career year, scoring 14 goals and putting up 50 points. Trouba’s best season was eight goals and 33 points in 2016-17. He plays fewer minutes a night and doesn’t anchor the power play like Dumba. Trouba might be a better defender, but the NHL is a scoring league and production equals dollars.

So short of a career-year — one that would require Trouba to stay healthy (a struggle thus far in his five years in the NHL), in all likelihood — and barring a long-term deal after he’s eligible for one on Jan. 1 — Cheveldayoff is going to have a different decision to make next summer, providing he doesn’t intend on letting Trouba walk for free.

* * *

Replacing Trouba isn’t an easy task.

With Trouba, Winnipeg’s right defenseman depth includes himself, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers. Without him, and with Myers set to become a UFA at the end of next season, that depth is exposed pretty quickly. A good thread on how Winnipeg’s diversity on the right side has been one of their strengths:

Another year for Tucker Poolman and an uptick in playing time should reveal what the Jets have in him. Poolman has potential and showed it at times last year, but he’s still raw after coming straight out of college a year ago and was coming off bilateral shoulder surgery during the last offseason. Poolman is a restricted free agent at the moment and the Jets have yet to re-sign him.

Winnipeg has Sami Niku, who began his pro career in the AHL last year and won the league’s best defenseman award as a rookie. But Niku is to defense what Toby Enstrom was to offense. Niku is your prototypical offensive defenseman. That’s certainly a good thing, no question. But Niku isn’t a proven commodity in the NHL yet, and losing Trouba leaves a gaping hole when it comes to shutting down the best players on opposing teams.

The Jets targeted two defenseman in the middle rounds of the 2018 NHL Draft, and they’re still a few years away from making any real impact, if they make one at all.

A hefty return for Winnipeg should be involved in any trade for Trouba. In all likelihood, a willing participant in any deal would have to give up a comparable rostered defenseman or a very highly-touted prospect rearguard. A replacement is a must. They don’t need another top-six forward. They need a man that will fill Trouba’s shoes.

There will be several potential suitors for Trouba’s services, but pinning down who and what is involved is anyone’s guess.

The New York Islanders have Ryan Pulock, who played 68 games in his first full NHL season last year and put up 10 goals and 32 points. He’s 23 and from Dauphin, Manitoba — four hours or so west of Winnipeg.

The Detroit Red Wings could be another possible landing spot. Trouba is a Michigan native and the Red Wings top prospect defenseman Filip Hronek that could interest Winnipeg, although a deal like this might not give the Jets an immediate nor proven replacement.

This is all purely speculation. The above two examples offer two sides of what Cheveldayoff could target (similar roster player or well-regarded prospect in a package deal). There are several teams rebuilding at the moment, such as the New York Rangers, and others looking to take their team to the next level, such as the Boston Bruins. If the Tampa Bay Lightning can’t nail down Erik Karlsson, do they look at Trouba? You’d have to think they’d want Mikhail Sergachev in return.

It’s a tricky deal to navigate because the Jets need to fill the outgoing void. Few teams are giving up their best young defenseman for another team’s best young defenseman. These trades rarely happen.

And all of this can change with the wind. A year from now, the landscape in the NHL could be dramatically different, offering new possibilities, in the trade environment, and within the Jets organization.

Cheveldayoff will be in it pretty thick next summer. Blake Wheeler is scheduled to become a UFA and deserves a raise. Patrik Laine is likely to hit double-digits in annual average value. Kyle Connor led all rookies in goal scoring this season. There could be close to $30 million tied up in those three players alone if Connor gets signed long-term, although a bridge deal seems likely given the cap situation.

And to top it all off, Cheveldayoff might be fielding offers for one of his best defensemen.

Let the games begin.

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