Acclimatizing to a new environment is something we can all relate to. New school, new in-laws or new friends – it can all be difficult but the hardest is always a new job. Adapting can take time because its tough to get used to the new expectations of your employer. The newest additions to the Winnipeg Jets are just like the rest of us – sometimes it takes a little time to get used to the new environment. This is why we need to examine the expectations of the recent signings; will they meet, exceed or underachieve?
Luca Sbisa – Exceed
Luca Sbisa’s arrival to Winnipeg was tumultuous and far from ideal. Before arriving in Winnipeg under unusual circumstances, the Swiss national was nearly out of the NHL until he signed a PTO (Professional tryout) with the New York Islanders in 2018. The subsequent series of unfortunate events went as follows: Sbisa is waived by the Anaheim Ducks, picked up by the Jets on waivers, tangles with Laine and injures the young Finn in practice, replaces Laine in the lineup against…..the Ducks. The likely reason Sbisa exceeds expectations this year? Because they will be low. Very low. The odds of Sbisa cracking the opening day lineup are minimal and being on the roster when the trade deadline comes, uncertain. These kinds of expectations really boost the likelihood that he’ll exceed expectations.
The Jets blueline is less than desirable, so bringing Sbisa back on a one-year, $800,000 deal is making the best of a bad situation. While Winnipeg’s brass will look to add a more reliable defenceman, if they become available, Sbisa will likely be the stop-gap solution for the 2020-21 season. The journeyman defenceman played 44 games in the ‘Peg last season, netting 2 goals, 8 assists and finished with a +/- of +1. The statline is unimpressive but the entire Jets blueline struggled last season and were fortunate to have the Vezina-winner Connor Hellebuyck guarding their crease. Hellebuyck faced at least 37 shots in 13 regular-season games and boasted a 10-1-2 record in that span. Paul Maurice knows this sort of success is not sustainable and will be looking to Sbisa to provide valuable minutes in a 3rd– or 4th– pairing role to decrease the shots his award-winning goalie will face this season.
The uncertainty of the upcoming season will force every team to ensure they have the depth to withstand injuries and COVID-related absences. This means 3rd and 4th line stalwarts will be thrust into more minutes, heightened responsibility and increased expectations. Sbisa didn’t do himself any favours in endearing himself to fans by injuring their Finnish superstar in practice – we all know how protective Winnipeg is of their Finnish forwards. But this upcoming season could be Sbisa’s redemption year. The 30-year old has 12 seasons to his name, including an 82-game campaign with the Vancouver Canucks in 2016. The veteran has proven he can play consistent minutes in the NHL, yet expectations for Sbisa remain low. However, the unpredictability of this upcoming season may benefit Sbisa because, given the weakened state of the Jets blueline, if he is able to remain healthy the likelihood he exceeds the low-expectations placed on him is high. While it’s likely that Maurice will hope to utilize Sbisa in a complimentary role but, if forced, he has already advocated for Sbisa’s defensive play. Barring another Vezina-winning season by Hallebuyck, the Jets will need to tighten up at the back if they hope to be a contender in the Central division.