It’s nearing mid-July and rosters are starting shape out for the next season.
Have the Winnipeg Jets done enough to make it into the playoffs once again?
Let’s take a look after the jump.
1. Cheveldayoff taking the month off?
The Jets have been quiet in this first week of July, no two ways about that. While other teams have made improvements both on the UFA market and via trade, Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t really given himself very much to do as far as we can tell.
There have been a few bottom-of-the-roster re-signings (guys like Adam Pardy and Matt Halischuk were brought back), and some AHL guys brought aboard or re-upped, plus the return of Alex Burmistrov from the KHL — which we’ll get to in a minute — but that’s it. Most teams have been far busier.
So the question one has to ask is what, exactly, the Winnipeg brass is thinking about their team that got smoked in the first round last year. It is, to some extent, debatable as to whether the West, and Conference III in particular, got better this summer (Chicago obviously stands to lose even more than Brandon Saad, who, fortunately for other teams in the West, is now the Eastern Conference’s problem), but what is not debatable is that the Jets have done little to improve their team.
2. Looking at the losses
The first thing you have to consider when examining the Jets offseason is what they lost. No one is going to miss some of the guys that have already signed elsewhere, but the defection of Michael Frolik to Calgary (albeit for a good chunk of change) isn’t a positive at all.
Moreover, they seem positioned to lose Jiri Tlusty, Jim Slater, and Lee Stempniak to free agency, which is a bit of a mixed bag. Slater’s another guy who’s easily replaceable, and Tlusty’s a guy I could leave or take, but Stemniak is a positive-possession player who was third on the team in relative goals for in what was, admittedly, a short stint. Despite his age, he’s a guy I would have looked to re-sign, especially because of his decent utility as a two-way player, even if he is in his early 30s at this point. One would have to assume he could be signed for relatively short money and term. But in all, you can let those guys walk as long as you think you’ve got the guns to improve upon them.
3. Bringing Burmistrov back
Getting Burmistrov to come back from Russia is certainly a step in a positive direction in this regard. While the previous coaching regime had no time for him, he was clearly a guy who could develop into a difference-maker given the right opportunities. He sought them overseas and did alright in the low-offense KHL. What impact he could have at the NHL level is currently unclear — I’m not too eager to project things given how he was used and against whom he played back in 2012 and 2013 — but the talent is obvious.
There’s a very distinct possibility that he puts up solid numbers back in the NHL this year. But at the same time, it is a bit of a gamble, and if that’s the big move to improve the team this summer, then I’m worried about where this Jets team stands.
4. Is it enough?
Now, you can obviously make the argument that the Jets’ attempts to improve the team for this season actually came with the Evander Kane trade. They brought aboard Drew Stafford (who received a two-year, big-money extension) and Tyler Myers, and that might be enough to keep the playoff party going in Winnipeg for at least a little while longer.
In addition, one must acknowledge the expected improvement through growth of younger players like Mark Scheifele, plus whatever some guys who look primed to make the jump to the pros next season can do. We’re talking Nik Ehlers, Joel Armia, Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey, Chase De Leo, etc. Guys who look to have the ability to make decent impacts down the road. But with the exception of Armia, there has to be a question about the potential of so many rookies who just completed seasons in junior to actually make an impact as NHLers.
These are all skilled guys, no doubt, but plenty of skilled guys haven’t had the best rookie seasons, especially when they’re still just barely 20. You can be optimistic about their impact all you want, but if you’re counting on rookies to drive improvement of your overall team quality, you have a lot to worry about. These guys are good, but they’re not Connor McDavid.
But the big reason I’m not putting any money on the Jets to make the playoffs again next year is a simple one. There’s no telling what happens in net. None.
Let’s put this as plainly as possible: You’re all smart people, so do you really expect Ondrej Pavelec to have another season of .930 at 5-on-5? His career average is .918, and even adjusting for things like team quality, his numbers this year are so much of an outlier that you have to think he comes crashing back to earth.
And okay, fair enough, it happens. But the Jets basically only made the playoffs because they got unbelievably hot goaltending this past season from both Pavelec and (for a time) Michael Hutchinson. The Jets were, let’s not forget, the eighth seed in the West with 99 points. While that was four points better than what LA turned in as the first team out (not to mention two points better than Calgary), that shows how slim the margin for error is. It’s basically a win or two.
The Jets were tied for 10th in the league in overall save percentage, and eighth at 5-on-5. Their .913 was, interestingly, about league average. But that they did that with a young backup who went 14-3-2 behind .939 in 20 games from the end of October to late January (more than half his 38 appearances) and a guy who greatly exceeded his below-replacement-level career averages, well, how sustainable do you think that is?
Now, maybe if — when? — Pavelec falters, Hutchinson at 25 can carry the load better than Hutchinson at 24, or maybe Connor Hellebuyck even gets some time with the big club and continues to impress. (Though that, again, puts a lot of pressure on a rookie to carry a team.)
But at that point you’re expecting something that, statistically, is highly unlikely.
5. Reasonable expectations
Frankly, I just don’t see this team as having added enough goals to counteract the likely avalanche of goals-against it’s likely to face with numbers regressing to anywhere near their historical norms given Winnipeg’s goaltending situation (and the marginally worsened team defense with the loss of Frolik).
Does Stafford make up for Kane? Probably not. Does Myers represent so big an improvement over Bogosian that he saves the team a dozen goals against over the course of a season? Probably not. Does anyone actually think Pavelec can produce another .920 season? Definitely not.
In light of how little has been done this summer, it seems that Cheveldayoff is willing to stand pat with what he has. And what he has is a 16 with the dealer currently showing 8.