This week, we at Jets Nation hope to provide you with some of the best (and free) in-depth coverage of the Winnipeg Jets as the trade deadline date fast approaches us. We’ll take a look at what the Jets have done, could do, and should do, with all the reasoning why and why not.
We start off our series with taking an inventory of the Jets stock and what they have to give up and what they need to get back.
Areas of Need
As we’ve theorized previously, the multi-year extension of Dustin Byfuglien marked the confirmation of Kevin Cheveldayoff wanting to try to win with the Jets current core of players. The window for the Jets current core is closing, though, and likely extends only as far as the 2018-2019 season.
With this in mind, there are two things the Jets are looking for:
Potential players that could help them contend in that specific window and potential players that could limit any fallback when they restructure their roster after that window passes.
This all translates to futures. Future players — from draft picks to young, NHL-capable cost controlled assets. As a retooling though, not a rebuild.
For the more immediate help the Jets are looking for the next Mathieu Perreault or Michael Frolik. Players that are young, cost-controlled, and are capable filling supportive roles over the next few seasons to help Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, et al. perform their best.
A more immediate need could also include the next Joel Armia. A player who is young and on the cusp of entering the NHL, who will help more a few years down the road than the remainder of this current season.
Any draft pick as part of a return from the trade deadline is not likely to fall in the more short-term needs. Aside from a top 5 or top 10 selection, most draft picks enter the NHL around three to six years after they are drafted, and the longer they take, the less of an impact and ceiling they tend to have. This may assist the Jets fall out after the 2018-2019 competitive window closing, but is only a secondary need to pushing the current core to contention.
Another area of need is the removal of any players who will reduce their ability to contend in that window, either by taking up too much of the Jets limited resources or by being negative value players.
In a vacuum, Andrew Ladd is an excellent player and should be kept. He will likely be worth the value of his next contract at least for the first few seasons, which would include the Jets competitive window. There is the question though of whether that same resource space would not be better used elsewhere with younger players. The Jets are a budget team and therefore limit themselves too how much they can afford with multi-year commitments to the older core past the 2019 window. Otherwise, the team will not be able to construct sufficient depth to support that core to compete.
Drew Stafford is not discussed often enough as a possible asset to be traded. Stafford is limitedly useful depth player. He scores points, but has poor impact on outscoring. With the right linemates Stafford can turn a possession-outshooting line into a dangerous outscoring line, but with the wrong ones he can hurt more than he helps. He can’t set the table, but he can feast — as Thomas Drance would say. The best part though is the market tends to value these players more than outshooting players relative to their impact on wins, so the Jets could receive slight upgrades by attacking a market inefficiency.
While against my own personal judgement, Tobias Enstrom may be a player the team looks to move out, as could be Jacob Trouba. Enstrom is on the downward slide of his career but is still a bonafide top-four defender. Trouba’s contract extension could end up more money than the Jets would be willing to fork out. In the end though I would suggest the Jets try to keep their only two competent players that have played on the left-side of their defence.
Tyler Myers is another interesting piece. Myers has performed better in Winnipeg than he did in his past few seasons in Buffalo. Like Stafford though, Myers perceived value may be more than his true value due to his impact being more on personal point production rather than outscoring the opposition through outshooting. Again the Jets have a piece where they could attack a market inefficiency. His downward salary slide though may be difficult for a budget team to release though.
Chris Thorburn and Anthony Peluso each have a year of contract remaining; Mark Stuart has two. All three are very marginal role players who are unlikely to give the Jets any real tangible value on-ice over the duration of their contract. They are negative contracts that the Jets should try to move out in order to free up Cap Space and 50 contract-limit space over the next three seasons in order to afford the upgrades the team’s depth so desperately needs.
While it could bite the Jets if the player were to bounce back to past performance levels, the struggling Alexander Burmistrov could be viewed in a similar manner.
Thus far, the market is being set by the Toronto Maple Leafs. There have been three trades thus far this February, all of them include the Maple Leafs.
On February 9th, the Toronto Maple Leafs sent Dion Phaneuf, Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert, and Cody Donaghey to the Ottawa Senators for Jared Cowen, Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Tobias Lindberg, and a 2017 2nd Round pick.
The Leafs were clearing cap space with the removal of Phaneuf while the Senators were looking for some defensive depth to help support a core that almost could be considered just Erik Karlsson and fodder. The tanking Leafs can afford to have a player not play like Michalek, who is a quality player but struggle with injuries. Toronto also took expiring contracts in return, so that they may free up some of their 50 contract limit space.
Then on February 21st the Leafs traded Shawn Matthias to the Colorado Avalanche for Colin Smith and a 2016 4th round pick.
If there is one thing the Leafs are doing well, it is acquiring more picks. More picks is like more lottery tickets: the more you have, the more likely you will hit on what you want. The Avalanche in return picked up a depth player who is limited, but also useful. Matthias can and does score goals, at a fairly strong pace for a bottom-roster player. A fourth line Stafford, if you will.
The Leafs once again flexed the same muscles. They gave depth players elevated roles, raised their status and value, used their financial flexibility to take on unwanted short term contracts, and received picks in return: on February 22nd the Leafs sent Roman Polak and Nick Spalling to the San Jose Sharks for both their 2017 and 2018 2nd round picks plus Raffi Torres.
Polak and Spalling are cheap, minor, flawed, but useful depth pieces; they won’t make a team into a contender, but can help out a team that already is one. Torres meanwhile is likely banished into the AHL for the duration of his contract and the Leafs have the budget to pay that.
So, thus far, the market has been minor players like Polak, Spalling, and Matthias, or a larger piece with (too much) term like Phaneuf. We yet to see any high-value rental pieces moved out quite yet.
Cap and Contract Space
The one thing the Jets have a lot of is flexibility.
At 44 contracts, the Winnipeg Jets have more contract flexibility to accept pro-level players and increases to their roster than any other team in the NHL with the exception of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The CBA limits teams to 50 NHL contracts allowed per team, with under 20-year-old players in the CHL allowed to be exempt. Flexibility can be an asset, if used appropriately, and the contract limit is an often forgotten limiting factor on trades.
In addition, the Winnipeg Jets also have the largest room for additional Salary Cap space to be taken up after the deadline. Currently the Jets are projected to spend less of their allowable cap space than any other team in the NHL. This freedom allows them to add expiring contracts that other teams may not want in return for value, similar to what the Leafs have done as previously discussed. The Jets though as a budget team cannot spend as frivolously, but the flexibility still is an asset that other teams may not have.
The Jets have a lot of contracts that could be moved as well, but no one is certain beyond total guess work on which ones are actually on the outs.
In terms of draft pick assets, the Jets are not in a strong position for a rebuild or retool. Draft picks are a form of liquid asset that can be moved to purchase players, in addition to drafting players. Normally a team outside of the playoffs should hope to have more than the average number of picks, but the Jets actually are below the average.
They currently hold all seven of their 2017 draft picks, but are without a third round due to trading it to the Carolina Hurricanes in return for Jiri Tlusty during the 2014-2015 season. The average third round selection does not make the NHL far more often than team’s hit on them, but there is still the chance plus the additional trade value of a pick. The Jets third round selections thus far have been Adam Lowry, Brennan Serville, Scott Kosmachuk, Jimmy Lodge, JC Lipon, Jack Glover, and Erik Foley.
The Jets are a draft and develop team, so it is unlikely that they trade away any of their picks, or their near ready prospects.
However, Kevin Cheveldayoff has been known to say that he is not adverse to expediting the process of development. One example of this would be Vancouver Canuck’s Jim Benning trading a draft pick for Sven Baertschi. The Canucks were able to gain a player who was ready faster than what their 2nd draft pick would return, and also likely better. The Jets could move a pick or prospect for this type of move.
Not all of the Jets’ prospects are coveted but there are some that likely are. Kyle Connor is likely untouchable, but I couldn’t see any other prospect being considered the same, if they view the return as being better for the Jets attempt to support the current core’s drive to the Stanley Cup.
Josh Morrissey, Nicolas Petan, Eric Comrie, and Chase De Leo are four players performing well in the AHL. Depending on the Jets’ situation and the other team, the Jets could move these players to upgrade with young and proven NHL talent… although I am skeptical.