Winnipeg Jets Free Agency: Part One – Needs

The Winnipeg Jets are entering 2015’s free agency and they have some holes to fill.

While free agency is no longer a place you can build a team, it is still a location where smart General Managers can efficiently supplement their core, pushing the team to the next level.

The Jets currently have about 54 million assigned for 2015, and Mark Chipman estimates the Jets to be about a third-quartile team in spending. After making the playoffs last season for the first time since the franchise’s move to Canada, the Jets will be looking to contend for a second time.

Let’s take a look at what the Jets needs are that may be filled by free agency.

As it currently stands, the Winnipeg Jets nineteen players signed to contracts that have played at least half a season in the NHL. The Jets start the free agency period with nine forwards, eight defenders, and two goaltenders.

It is still early in the summer. Trades may occur. Rookies may push their way onto the roster. Still, there is reasoning to believe the Jets could improve their team through free agency and also push the team beyond what we saw last year.

Forwards

What the Jets have:

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AAV is Cap Hit for 2015-16 season per NHL Numbers. GAR is for 2012-15 seasons, extrapolated to a single 82 games played season.

For those that do not know, Goals Above Replacement (GAR) is a statistic measured in team goal differential that estimates a player’s worth relative to a replacement level player, combining performance in shot metrics, finishing talent, penalty differentials, and face offs. While the number is not defining of a player and has its warts, the decent attempt at placing player value under one number gives a good place for conversation to start. 

The Jets look to have seven of their top-nine forward spots filled, but could use two more.

Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Mathieu Perreault, and Mark Scheifele make five parts of a strong top-six unit and Adam Lowry has been an effective third line centre. The Jets have the top part of their roster predominately filled, and much of it is cost controlled for a few seasons or more.

While Drew Stafford’s GAR rating is likely hurt from his time in Buffalo, underlying numbers as a Jet (and that many players in Buffalo outperformed Stafford) suggest that a second line job may be more than what is an optimal role. He may fit best in a third line role, depending on what the alternatives are.

Chris Thorburn may not be a player you want filling in your top-nine unit, but he is still a decent option as your eleventh or twelfth best forward. Meanwhile, Anthony Peluso doesn’t carry the best numbers, but as far as pugilists go, he will hurt you the least.

What the Jets need:

Optimally the Jets would like to fill out their roster with two middle-six quality forwards, with one preferably being someone that can handle or fit in the Jets top-six more effectively than Stafford.

In addition, the Jets need a both a centre and a winger for the fourth line.

Defenders

What the Jets have:

Screen shot 2015-07-01 at 1.29.55 AM

AAV is Cap Hit for 2015-16 season per NHL Numbers. GAR is for 2012-15 seasons, extrapolated to a single 82 games played season.

It’s probably been said too often, but the difference in quality between the Jets left and right side is startling.

The Jets have two extremely dominant top-four defenders in Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. It is amazing how solid of numbers Byfuglien and Trouba have carried, despite Byfuglien playing a slew of minutes as a below average forward and Trouba being attached to the hip of Mark Stuart.

The Jets hope Tyler Myers’ career will be revitalized as a Jet. Although he scored well and many enjoyed watching him play, the underlying numbers suggest much of it was percentage driven and Myers true value may not be much better than Zach Bogosian.

Paul Postma serves as elite as you would hope for being the fourth-best, right-handed defender.

On the left side you have the underrated Tobias Enstrom, and then the rest.

There are two clear tiers though after Enstrom. You have Grant Clitsome and Ben Chiarot as bonafide plus-performers, and then you have the anchors Jay Harrison and Mark Stuart.

Chiarot’s numbers are very likely heavily inflated from his time with Byfuglien, but the underlying numbers suggest his value is probably similar to Clitsome.

What the Jets need:

The largest need for the Jets defensive core is an efficient distribution of ice time.

The Jets need Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, and Jacob Trouba to be in the top-four. There is also an argument that Tyler Myers should be there as well.

Paul Maurice at the draft discussed the possibility of moving one of the three right-shots onto the left side. If so, the underlying numbers suggest that Enstrom would best be served with one of Byfuglien and Trouba over Myers. Enstrom and Myers perform best in opponent shot repression, while Byfuglien and Trouba perform best in teammate shot creation. Their individual strengths would help counter the other defender’s weaknesses.

There is an argument that the Jets could use another left-shot defender, one to fill in the Jets top four cleanly, although with proper management this may not be needed.

The biggest question is: Will Maurice use Mark Stuart and Jay Harrison over Ben Chiarot and Grant Clitsome?

Goaltenders

What the Jets have:

Screen shot 2015-07-01 at 1.40.31 AM

Goaltenders are a fickle position to analyze and predict.

Ondrej Pavelec performed extremely well last season, nearly performing above the starter median performance and posting career numbers. There has been sufficient history however to suggest that this success was unsustainable and that the true Pavelec is likely to rear his head once again.

Hutchinson has performed admirably as a NHL goaltender overall, although there are some who are nervous with Hutchinson’s best performance being early in his entry into the NHL, and not the later. (It seems silly to me and trying to make something out of randomness, but I understand it)

What the Jets need:

There is a common saying that “goaltenders are voodoo” said amongst hockey analysts. While it’s not entirely true, there is some reasoning why it is said.

The high variance of shooting percentages causes goaltender performance in the shot run to mimic randomness. Over the long run, the weighted probabilities related to a goaltender’s “true-talent” starts to emerge, but the length in time needed makes it difficult to judge.

Overall, the Jets need a better starter. They do not need elite, but someone who is strong enough that they give league average or better performance more-often-than-not.

There is a possibility that Hutchinson may be able to provide that, but it is early. Pavelec is unlikely, and may even end up being used as a trade-chip in the future as Connor Hellebuyck makes his way into the NHL.