After making the post-season for the first time in franchise history since the move to Manitoba, the Winnipeg Jets were unable to build upon the previous season’s success and collapsed down the standings.
The Jets have a lot of interesting pieces though and could be on a steep upswing next year. Do not be surprised if the Jets find themselves back in the post season next year.
Let’s look at why.
Left is ordered by statistic to keep each situation similar, while right is ordered in terms of goal differential impact.
The Jets’ defensive game on penalty kill and 5v5 combined for about 13 more goals against. Jets goaltending in all situations fell by about 22 goals, about half of the Jets’ total drop. The Jets shooting percentage on the power play and 5v5 hurt the team by about nine goals, while the Jets shot volume on the power play (that was bad to begin with) worsened by three goals.
There were many causes to the Jets falling numbers. Lost depth with Michael Frolik, Lee Stempniak, and Jiri Tlusty going to free agency. Adam Lowry, Alexander Burmistrov, and Ben Chiarot substantially underperforming their past NHL levels. An injured Andrew Ladd not quite ever fully getting back to 100% health. And a 904 career netminder unable to repeat a 920 performance.
I was a real fan of how Shawn Reis used Dominic Galamini’s HERO charts in his assessments as it gives a great surface level look into the team, so I’m stealing his idea here with looking how each Jet performs in primary point pace per sixty minutes and relative shot share (relative Corsi):
Off Screen (OS) means player’s performance tier was too low to be on screen for visual and below that of a typical fourth line player.
*HERO charts are weighted over last three seasons; Burmistrov’s numbers, however, skip 2013-15 seasons and use 2011-13 instead as he has no sample to draw from during his time in the KHL.
The Winnipeg Jets have a lot of talent up front, more than one would expect given their placement in the standings. That’s what terrible special teams, a poor penalty differential, and weak goaltending will do to a decent 5v5 team.
The Jets have a top-tier wingers in Blake Wheeler and Mathieu Perreault, and are adding two first round talents to the mix (with a small off chance of Auston Matthews instead of one of the Fins). Nikolaj Ehlers performed exceptionally well in his first season, and Marko Dano has been pretty elite in very small samples.
At centre though things are a bit murkier. Mark Scheifele and Bryan Little have both performed as fringe first line talents, with Scheifele being the better scorer and Little the better shot driver. However, the Jets have really lacked a capable third line centre, and hope that Nicolas Petan can develop into that role or have one of Lowry or Burmistrov bounce back to previous form.
Off Screen (OS) means player’s performance tier was too low to be on screen for visual and below that of a typical third line player.
Dustin Byfuglien is an elite talent and bonafide All-Star calibre defenseman. Things aren’t as pretty further down the roster. Myers can score, but tends to get outshot. Enstrom is showing signs of aging and his source for scoring was always the power play that he’s lost time on. Jacob Trouba has been exceptional but has carried a below-NHL-replacement-level-talent anchor, Mark Stuart, for about half his career.
The Jets could do fine with a top four of Byfuglien, Myers, Enstrom, and Trouba, but they need to keep Byfuglien and Trouba away from Chiarot and Stuart while also having a defender or two between them in the depth charts. Optimistically Joshua Morrissey and Paul Postma could step into this role, but the Jets seem to be set on playing pylons on the third pair or strapped to their dynamic right-shot defenders.
The Jets have some big names to sign extensions to but their overall Salary Cap structure should not cary any short or longterm problems.
Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba are expecting big raises, and according to most reports both sides are looking to extend long term. Luckily for the Jets, there is a large set of comparisons already to look at and project what type of contract the Jets will likely hand out to these two pivotal core pieces.
Scheifele will likely extend long term with a contract length and structure fairly similar to that of Alexander Barkov, with maybe a few extra 100 thousand due to inflation and “Winnipeg effect” (Florida has nicer weather and no state tax). Jacob Trouba will likely reside somewhere between Morgan Rielly and Olli Mattaa, although he may bargain for tad higher if Scheifele signs first.
After that, most of the Jets remaining contract negotiations should be fairly simple, with short-term deals at low AAV.
The Jets Cap Hit then likely projects somewhere around the mid to high 60s, depending on multiple factors.
Patrik Laine cures a lot of ailments.
The Jets’ off-season plan should be fairly simple, and even a potato should do a solid job and repair the team.
Up front the Jets have the right pieces and probably all the depth they need. An influx of talent with Kyle Connor and a second overall draft pick should stimulate the Jets offense. A third line centre option could be acquired through free agency, but between Petan, Burmistrov, and Lowry they may have the answer internally. The Manitoba Moose could used some help constructing a more positive developmental environment, after what was a disaster season last year.
The Jets just need to get their contract extensions done and then make use the correct pieces appropriately next season. No more situations like Chris Thorburn spending more games on the Jets’ third line versus the fourth line are needed.
At the backend, the Jets could use a new third pair, as Stuart and Chiarot are better served in more pressbox and “character” roles. If Morrissey is not ready and Maurice still resistant to using Postma, the Jets could do well looking for a cheap temporary acquisitions like Patrick Wiercioch.
A significant move would be ill-advised, as they would risk spending resources acquiring a defender that they would risk losing in the expansion draft anyways.
The Manitoba Moose desperately need to add about two competent AHL puck moving veterans, as currently only Morrissey and prospect Brenden Kichton can get the puck out of the defensive zone.
In goaltending, the solution once again may already be available internally. Connor Hellebuyck has been an exceptional performer at every level he’s played. He’s also done well in the NHL, albeit with a very small sample size. Michael Hutchinson’s improvement over Ondrej Pavelec has been marginal, although at a much lower cost.
At this point there is no real significant improvement through buying out Pavelec and he likely is an un-tradable asset. It may seem like a wild idea, but Eric Comrie could use some veteran presence in the AHL.
The Jets are also short an assistant coach, with Pascal Vincent moving across the hall to coach the Jets’ farm team. The team could desperately use one with a significantly positive impact on their special teams, and the status quo is not cutting it.
Overall the Jets have the talent and the means to significantly bounce back in the standings after last season.
At forward they have impressive depth, which should only improve with the young core developing and the additions of Kyle Connor and the Jets’ second overall selection in the 2016 Draft (likely Patrik Laine). At defense they could use some skill and puck movement added on the third pair and on the farm team. In goaltending the answer is likely within simply a changing of the guard.
Fix the Jets’ special teams and you likely have a team making some noise in one of the toughest divisions in the NHL.