Dropping their third straight game, and 5th of their last 7 but still atop the Southeast Division, the Jets are in an unenviable place for this deadline. It’s clear that this roster needs upgrading to reasonably expect to advance in the playoffs, and perhaps even just to make them. A second line right winger with some scoring ability, a third-line left winger who can play both ways and drive the play, maybe a depth defenceman, and even another depth forward could all reasonably be put on a wish list for the short-term, while a solution in net, more high-end talent, and another top 4 defenceman are likely on everyone’s long-term radar. With just 10 players from their current roster under contract for next year and over $30M in estimated cap space, the Jets face a challenging question this deadline, and one that plagued the Thrashers for a decade. Is this rebuild going to require a ‘scortched earth’ approach, or will the Jets attempt to compete while adding prospects? More specifically, how should the Jets manage soon-to-be UFAs and RFAs knowing that they don’t have better replacements waiting next season? And how should they approach the deadline given they currently have a 48% chance of making the playoffs?
Cheveldayoff has made it clear that the team intends to build from within, and boasts 4 picks inside the top 60 of a very high-end draft along with Scheifele and Trouba getting closer to NHL action. But the pipeline holds few other assets, with Patrice Cormier seeing extremely limited minutes (in number and effectiveness) during his recent call up, Eric O’Dell impressing somewhat unexpectedly on a bad IceCaps team, and Ivan Telegin having an underwhelming season derailed by injury. On the blue line, Postma continues to project as a specialist despite passing his 24th birthday, and Zach Redmond was impressive in an early call up but also had his season cut short by injury (pun bonus!) while playing in a limited role.
Meanwhile, the team faces UFA decisions on depth forwards Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, and Antti Miettinen, as well as Clitsome and anchor-to-our-penalty-kill Ron Hainsey. Though all of these players have faced and even deserved some scorn from the fanbase this year, Antropov is the 6th highest scorer on the team (5th among forwards) and Hainsey is -2 while playing tough minutes for a team that is -8 at even strength. Advanced stats tell us Hainsey is playing some of the toughest competition in the league on a consistent basis, and has a similar role to other noteable shut down defencemen like Dan Girdardi, Brooks Orpik, Robyn Regehr, and Brad Stuart. On top of that, he plays more than three minutes a night on the penalty kill. He’s a player that is critical to the Jets success this season, but also can’t be allowed to leave the team without assets coming back.
This is not a deep UFA class, and the Jets don’t have replacements on the roster or in the system for their free agents to be. Equally important is the fact that the team has an opportunity at the playoffs, home ice advantage, and a division title the season before entering a much more challenging division. Ask Oilers fans, Leafs fans, or even Thrashers fans how important a playoff birth is to a franchise.
Wednesday will come with some hard decisions for the franchise, and more than other teams, the Jets will show their intention for how the rebuild will continue. Will the Jets sell their UFAs and accept losing this season and possibly into next? Or will they add the pieces so clearly missing on this team and attempt to add wins along with prospects?
Armchair GMs sound off in the comments.