Offseason Game Plan: Winnipeg Jets
Over the past couple of months, I have been taking a closer look at each of the Eastern Conference teams to show what their current status is and where their offseason focus lies. Knowing a team’s strategy should provide extra assistance in any offseason trading or keeper decisions. This week I’ll take a look at the Winnipeg Jets.
As a reference, I’ll add each of the teams I’ve covered here at the top in case you’d like to look at some of the other game plans.
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
The cap space above (taken from capgeek.com) consists of 12 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goaltenders. Of the forwards, Olli Jokinen, Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov, and Antti Miettinen have no-trade clauses, while Alex Burmistrov and Patrice Cormier both have one year left on their two-way contracts. At defense, Dustin Byfuglien and Ron Hainsey each have no-trade clauses.
At forward, Winnipeg’s top line a year ago was the combination of Ladd, Bryan Little, and Blake Wheeler, who scored 57 even strength points. Assuming this line sticks together, the top-six will likely be filled out by three of Jokinen, Antropov, Burmistrov, and Kane (if signed). Assuming Burmistrov falls to the third line, the bottom-six would include Burmistrov, Alex Ponikarovsky, Jim Slater, Kyle Wellwood, Miettinen, Chris Thorburn, and Patrice Cormier.
With this setup, the Jets have the ability to put together a strong third line with offensive upside, but unfortunately, they have a few veterans in their top-nine (Jokinen, Antropov, Ponikarovsky) who are past their prime. What that could end up meaning for fantasy owners is that some of the third-line talent (guys like Burmistrov, Wellwood, and Cormier) might start the season out getting limited ice time – and limited offensive contributions – but over time they may out-perform some of the others in the top-six and ultimately become strong second-half performers. These will be the kind of guys you don’t want to draft, but should keep an eye on as waiver-wire pickups when they start to heat up.
In terms of players ready to make the jump to the NHL, the Jets have the aforementioned Machacek and Cormier, followed by Mark Scheifele, Carl Klingberg, and Ivan Telegin. Machacek is still unsigned, but was St. John’s leading scorer last year and notched nine points in 13 NHL games as well. Cormier has seen NHL action, but has taken longer to develop than expected, which might keep him grounded in the AHL all year. Scheifele is one of Winnipeg’s top prospects and will have one shot at making the team out of camp. If he fails to make the team, he will return to Barrie of the OHL and likely dominate for a year before joining Winnipeg full time in 2013-14. Telegin, a teammate of Schiefele’s in Barrie, is old enough to begin the year in the AHL and work his way up for a cup of coffee. Telegin is a big, physical Russian forward who already has three years of North American hockey under his belt. He also went point-for-point with Schiefele during the regular season before scoring 14 points in 13 playoff games to lead his team in scoring. Klingberg is an energetic forward who likely does not have a very high offensive ceiling, but he can bring energy and intensity to the lineup, which is often contagious. Klingberg saw six games of NHL action last year, and although he did score a point, the Jets won five of those six games.
On defense, Winnipeg’s top-four should include Byfuglien, Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, and Mark Stuart. However, Bogosian recently went under the knife to repair a lingering wrist injury, which could sideline him until February. That will allow the players who projected to be on the bottom pairing – Hainsey, Grant Clitsome, and Paul Postma – to have a shot at cracking the top-four. Hainsey is still making a whopping $4.5M with a no-trade clause, but his performance has been more of what you would expect from a sixth or seventh defenseman than a top-pairing guy, which means he will likely remain on the bottom unit. Clitsome has less offensive upside, likely keeping him grounded with Hainsey on the bottom pair, while Postma is the one with a higher ceiling. Last year Postma finished second in overall team scoring for St. John’s, trailing only Machacek, and over the past two years he scored 89 points in the AHL. This will be his first year on a one-way contract, and the Bogosian injury opens the door wide open for him to make his mark.
In terms of prospects ready to step up, the Jets are actually rather thin at the moment. Their top two defense prospects are a couple of former college athletes in Zach Redmond (Ferris State University) and Will O’Neill (University of Maine). Redmond spent the entire season in St. John’s, which was his first as a professional. He comes with a 6-2, 200 pound frame and despite scoring only 31 points in 72 games, he still managed to make the AHL All-Star game. He also adds a Clark Cup championship (USHL) to his resume and was named a CCHA First-team and Second-team All Star in his senior and junior years, respectively. O’Neill has just seven games of professional experience to his resume, as he joined St. John’s at the conclusion of the NCAA season. In that short time, he scored a goal and two assists though, while adding nine PIM and a plus-one rating. He comes with a similar frame – 6-1, 205 pounds – and a Clark Cup championship of his own, one year after Redmond earned his. O’Neill is a bit more physical than Redmond, but Redmond likely has the early edge due to his year of experience already. Neither is expected to challenge for an NHL spot yet, but they should see call-ups throughout the year, unless the Jets add some more depth.
In goal, Winnipeg has plenty of depth, with Ondrej Pavelec locked up as its primary goaltender. There were rumors that Pavelec might turn to the KHL, but those were squashed when he signed a five-year contract earlier this summer. While he is a strong goaltender who tends to keep a save percentage at least above .900, his goals against average is typically on the high side. Because of this, he adds value in the number of saves that he makes, as last year’s 1,845 were fifth-most in the league. Behind Pavelec is Al Montoya, a prospect who re-emerged in Long Island two seasons ago, with a phenomenal 2.39 goals against average and .921 save percentage in 21 games. Caught up in the Rick DiPietro/Evgeni Nabokov mess, Montoya left town for Winnipeg just this past summer and could make for a wise pickup if Pavelec were ever to be out of the lineup for an extended period of time.
In terms of prospects ready to make the jump up to the NHL, the Jets have two very capable goaltenders fighting for time in St. John’s next year in Mark Dekanich and Edward Pasquale. Dekanich blossomed in the Nashville system before getting a one-way deal with Columbus a year ago. Unfortunately for him, he hit some bad luck, and injuries wiped out his chance at a full year of NHL action. Keeping a positive attitude, picking up the pieces, and regrouping, Dekanich signed on with Winnipeg where he could be a sleeper to even beat out Montoya for the backup position on the Jets. Just two years ago, Dekanich posted a 2.02 goals against average, combined with an AHL-leading .931 save percentage in 43 games. Pasquale on the other hand is no slouch himself. He has been fighting his way up the depth chart and beat out David Aebischer last year as the St. John’s starter, posting an impressive .911 save percentage in the regular season and an even better .923 save percentage in the playoffs. On top of winning the starting job, Pasquale was an AHL All Star. Ultimately, if Pavelec gets suffers a serious injury, the Jets have plenty of depth to invest in.
Biggest holes to fill: Top-six forward positions that are currently being occupied by aging veterans, and defensive depth.
Priorities: The top priority should be to sign Evander Kane, who is a key piece of their franchise. There are rumors that he may be unhappy, and if that is the case, they need to make sure they get top value trading him or figure out a way to at least get a one-year contract in place, buying them some time before they need to move him. The next priority should be to bolster their defense, which is relatively thin even before the Bogosian surgery. They could truly benefit from the addition of one or two veterans, perhaps a guy like Carlo Colaiacovo or Michal Rozsival. The last priority would be to phase out some of the veterans who are past their prime, and replace them with budding talent like Scheifele and Telegin, but this could happen over a year or even number of years.
Overall, the Jets are a team that is rebuilding piece by piece and they’re doing a fairly good job of it. The forwards have enough veterans to mentor the emerging youth, although there may be a concern that they actually have too many veterans. They need to keep the young guys happy, specifically guys like Kane, Little, and Burmistrov. The defense features a couple blue-chip players, but the overall depth needs improvement. It is no surprise that they drafted a defenseman (Jacob Trouba) with their first pick, ninth overall. Their goaltending is probably their biggest strength, thanks to two key signings (Montoya and Dekanich).
The goal for Winnipeg should be to improve upon last year’s success – ideally making the playoffs and getting a round or two of experience for some of the guys who have never been there – which would lead to a big year in 2013-14. If they can progress on that path, the Jets are going to have a strong core of talent in place that will allow them to phase out veterans and seek out a new crop of young talent. From a fantasy standpoint, a good strategy might be to invest in some of the youth toward the middle to end of the upcoming season in order to pay dividends in 2013-14.
Got anything to add? Feel free to add your opinion below.