The trade deadline series concludes with Minnesota’s neighbors to the north, the Winnipeg Jets.
Record: 36-20-4, 76 points
Current Place: Second in Central Division, one point behind Nashville.
Helping conclude the series on Winnipeg today is Murat Ates who covers the Jets for The Athletic. Murat can be found on Twitter @WPGMurat.
1. The Jets currently are just a point behind in the Central and look poised to go deep in the playoffs again this year. Are there any weaknesses that this team should address before the deadline?
Winnipeg continues to be a very good team, but I think it’s important to be realistic about their strengths and weaknesses. The Jets are a point behind for the division lead, their special teams have been very good, and Connor Hellebuyck has rebounded from a slow start to post save percentages well above league average in December, January and February.
Their biggest issue is at 5-on-5, which has been middling by all of the shot attempts, expected goals and actual goals scored. They’re not suffocating teams in their own zone the way they did a year ago – if you’ve watched their full season or if you look at heat maps from sites like Natural Stat Trick or Hockey Viz, this much is clear. What are Winnipeg’s needs? In my opinion, the Winnipeg Jets need a second-pairing left-handed defenseman and a second-line forward who can meaningfully drive play. Special teams and goaltending can each run hot or cold but, if Winnipeg controls zone time, they have the finishing ability to go deep in this year’s playoffs.
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2. If the Jets do buy again would they be willing to part with premium assets as they did a year ago for Paul Stastny?
The first round pick is definitely in play. Nic Petan is definitely being shopped. But what about top prospects like Kristian Vesalainen, Sami Niku or even Jack Roslovic who is on a 2019 heater and who many pundits believe to be untouchable? When Kevin Cheveldayoff acquired Paul Stastny a year ago, it was a win for three reasons. First, it identified a player who could help keep young stars like Nik Ehlers and Patrik Laine playing in the offensive zone. Second, Winnipeg didn’t give up a roster player in the deal and third, it showed that Cheveldayoff, despite his reputation as risk averse, recognized Winnipeg’s unique window to win now – before Laine and Kyle Connor‘s new contracts create cap hell. It’s this last point — Cheveldayoff’s recognition of the moment — that makes me think even Winnipeg’s best prospects are available for the truly elite rentals available.
3. Is there a player out on the trade market you think the Jets should go after specifically?
Mark Stone. I’ve written about Stone at length at The Athletic and my conclusion is that he does everything at even strength that Winnipeg needs. There are those that will tell you Winnipeg needs a center. For me, the biggest forward need — regardless of position — is someone who can drive play and keep young stars like Laine, Connor and Ehlers playing hockey in the most dangerous areas of the ice instead of their own zone. This is where Stone excels – consistently the NHL’s takeaway leader, he is perhaps the best winger I’ve watched this year in terms of being F1 in his own zone, handling the defensive responsibilities at center and then switching out to wing when the timing is right. There are few forwards with Stone’s offensive ability at 5-on-5 who can also control where the game is played. This is exactly what Winnipeg needs, in my opinion, no matter what position Stone plays.
I rate Matt Duchene highly but don’t see his high-event-on-both-ends style as the ideal fit in Winnipeg. I’m convinced Wayne Simmonds still has it on the power play but that’s not an area of need in Winnipeg while he’s struggled post-injury to make an impact at 5-on-5. Another sneaky good fit? Kevin Hayes out of New York. I wrote about him as part of my trade deadline coverage here.
Finally, I would have rated Jake Muzzin above both of those players because the upgrade over Ben Chiarot on Winnipeg’s second pairing would have made Winnipeg’s defense nearly iron clad. I don’t see another player out there likely to have that same kind of impact, else I’d list that left-handed D as Winnipeg’s number one need.
But hey. I didn’t see Paul Stastny as “available” a year ago. That’s what’s fun about all of this stuff.
[Note: This was written before Matt Duchene’s trade on Friday afternoon.]
4. Are there any players the Jets could move out in a player-for-player trade, if they were so inclined, or are they more content to just buy?
Teams will ask about roster players like Jack Roslovic but Winnipeg will be loathed to give them up. For one more year at least, until Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine’s new deals price Winnipeg into cap hell, it’s all about adding at the deadline, and Winnipeg will attempt to do so without affecting the NHL roster. The Stastny template – a (lottery protected) first-round pick — along with a conditional mid-round pick (a fourth was sent for Stastny) — plus a good prospect in Erik Foley – seems like Winnipeg’s best bet again. Does that mean they miss on the elite like Stone, Panarin or even Duchene, or do they need to include someone as promising as Roslovic to make it happen? I still think of Winnipeg as more risk-averse than that but, well, insiders like Pierre LeBrun and Craig Custance continue to call the Western Conference an arms race between Winnipeg, Nashville, Calgary, and Vegas. There is little that would shock me between now and February 25.
5. Ultimately, do the Jets make a move before the deadline or do they stand pat and try to win with this team?
To me, there is no way Winnipeg doesn’t try to add. The cap space the Jets enjoy now won’t be available next season or at any point in the future that I can project. There are simply too many young offensive stars and, in addition to Laine and Connor’s raises which I keep mentioning, Blake Wheeler‘s $8.25 million extension kicks in on July 1. The same roster is simply going to be much costlier and, as Cheveldayoff proved a year ago, he and his management team are capable of recognizing — and then meeting — the moment. I think the Jets are all-in.