So, I am trying to do the impossible: construct the Jets’ starting lineup October 2020. This is an impossible task because we don’t know what the trade winds are nor do I have a full upside understanding of how some of the Moose players are truly performing. I have an idea, but I’m not watching the games. I put this out for comments and thoughts, knowing full well my assessment is limited and full of holes even in my mind. But here goes.
What makes this very difficult is trying to figure out which players are either traded or leave in free agency July 1. Making this more complex is players that are coming back. I expect Bryan Little to be back, healthy, and playing top six. Some people might want to suggest this is not possible, but Little is still the best faceoff guy on the team and we aren’t going to have a $5.3 million third-liner. As well, no one is knocking on the door for a $5.3 million, 32-year old, often hurt, smallish center. And we have him under contract through the 2023-24 season. The only way Bryan leaves is via retirement. He is still an extraordinarily good hockey player and has a solid place on this team. But talk about a guy who was snake bit this year… it’s Little.
When I look at the chart below, I am completely unsatisfied with it. You, too, I’m sure. The Jets are weak with right-hand shooters, no more prominently than on defense, but still, the only other right shooters we have are Chibisov, Shaw, and Shore. Shore is UFA and, at 27, probably gone. Chibisov is UFA as well.
I put Lowry on the third line because he is enormously important to the team. He could be trade bait but I look at Lowry as a 12-year franchise player. If it was up to me, I’d lock him up as a lifer for Winnipeg. He can’t be relegated to the fourth line, but then what happens to Eakin who is the current third-line center? Well, I think Eakin will be gone July 1 because we likely won’t want to pay him what he can get in free agency while also causing us a center problem with Little and Lowry back. Remember, the only reason we have Eakin is because of injuries.
Continuing with the chart, Perreault isn’t going anywhere, so he takes a LW position. For all of you that say trade him, he isn’t trade bait. His contract is too high to attract attention ($4.1 million for another year). Appleton has been too good not to play, so he isn’t coming off the chart. I think Roslovic is playing his final games as a Winnipeg Jet because (a) we won’t pay him what he wants; (b) has been hot and cold; and (c) we have other players that are coming along that won’t impact the cap space too badly.
So, who are these players? Vesalainen, Gustafson, Harkins, and Luoto, to name four. At what time do these players make the jump? Gustafson will be on the team this fall, but I’m not sure where. It depends on the Roslovic situation, which is another reason I think Roslovic will be traded. And at what point do Vesalainen and Harkins make the team? Harkins has looked good when called up. Vesalainen is still a question mark, but he has the goods. Also not sure about Luoto’s status, but I’m guessing his time is coming.
Still on the lineup chart, I really don’t like Scheifele at center and have said this often. For a number one center, he is literally the worst in the entire NHL at faceoffs. For NHL players who have taken more than 200 faceoffs this year, Scheifele is 115th on the list in terms of FOW percentage with 47.1 percent. Gustafsson, Lowry, Copp, and Eakin are all solidly in the 50s, with Wheeler at 49.7 percent. Some people don’t put a lot of faith in FOWs, but if you have the puck, you’re on offense. FOWs matter over the course of a season. I would rather see Scheifele on wing because we have several other centers that are much better in the circle than he is. BTW, Nick Shore has the highest percentage (55.5) on the team and is 15th in the league, followed by Lowry at 36th. All of this stated, I’m not sure where else you put Scheifele because he is still one of our most solid and versatile top six players. But it poses a problem, unless you keep him at center because he is, at heart, a center, even if not a very good one.
On defense, we only have a total of three right-shooting D-men who have a capability of starting in the NHL in the Jets system. Beaulieu is a UFA and will demand a significant raise this summer, as will DeMelo if we want to keep him. Between the two, the Jets will need to cough up another $4 million+ to the budget. Both could end up testing free agency and likely find a suitor if Chevy doesn’t pay up. Pionk has another year until RFA status and I’m guessing we will lock him up at some point. Poolman is a headscratcher for me. He has good games and not so good games. But he is cap friendly for another year before UFA status. In the wings there are guys who are ready for a move. I expect Heinola will be on the team next year. I am not sure what will become of Schilling and Stanley, but they are big guys that could have an impact. Sbiza, Kulikov, and Bitetto are all free agents this summer and I expect all will sign with other teams. I still think Kulikov is much, much better than people give him credit for.
Even with the entire Byfuglien mini-series this year, the Jets are solid on D for the next 3-4 years. People still want us to trade for a D man, but I think the better use of cap space would be for a top-six forward. My bet is that we do little or nothing this summer, outside of figuring out the Roslovic situation.
The Jets, on paper, are a very good hockey team. Better than the 18th team in the league as they are as of today. And they have had a tough year from the injury perspective. Still, this is the NHL and depth is all important. Regardless, the Jets will have depth next year if Heinola and others are on the Moose lineup. It should be an interesting year.
That’s enough for now. My brain hurts. Help me out here. What do you think?