Although the Winnipeg Jets have yet to sign their two largest free agents this summer, it appears the roster is virtually set for the start of the 2019-2020 season. Connor and Laine are both awaiting their shiny new contracts, but there is no sense of panic as a new deal will certainly get done before the start of training camp.
As expected, both players survived the offer sheet period and the Jets have plenty of time to negotiate new deals with the final pieces of the roster puzzle. With Pionk and Copp recently getting new deals, it leaves $17.5 million to split among Connor and Laine, a figure that should be able to do the trick with a bit of room left to spare.
When examining the rest of the roster, it appears that the lineup could already be set for the upcoming season. While there are still a few questions regarding bottom six forwards and depth defensemen, the pieces aren’t going to change, they might just need to be rearranged.
One of the pleasant things about the 21st century is the way people are able to collaborate online. Thanks to a group of multiple really smart hockey people (Sean Tierney, EvolvingWild), I was able to generate the Jets lineup with their approximate WAR (wins above replacement) and points for the upcoming season. (check out the tool here)
Let’s take a look given the current players on the depth chart.
As you can see, the forward lines remain nearly intact from last season except for some depth options in the bottom six. The defense on the other hand looks extremely different from last season and that’s probably not a good thing.. There are different ways to configure the defense, but it seems that these six have the best chances of making it into the opening day lineup.
The one shocking aspect of this exercise was seeing the approximate standings points at a measly 88. For reference, 88 points would have been outside the playoff picture as the Colorado Avalanche sneaked into the second wildcard spot with 90 points.
If these numbers are any indication, the Jets don’t look like contenders anymore, rather they might be fighting just to make the playoffs.
Even though the initial projections don’t look too strong, there are a few things to keep in mind. The second defensive pairing of Byfuglien and Kulikov balances out to zero as Byfuglien is plus 1.2 WAR and Kulikov is -1.2 WAR. As Byfuglien’s minutes increase, his WAR becomes more valuable to the team. In turn, if Kulikov plays third pairing minutes or even less, his negative impact is lessened.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the WAR model does not encapsulate everything for a hockey player. Specifically, Evolving-Hockey’s model is used as a descriptive stat. That means the WAR listed for each player is the value that each player provided to their team during the 2018-2019 season. It doesn’t project what next season’s numbers will be, rather it describes what the past season was like for each player. For more details on the WAR stat, check out the in-depth description here.
Despite being a descriptive stat, WAR can still provide valuable insight when looking at the projected lineup of the Jets. A more accurate way to describe it would be that if every single Jets player had an identical season to last year, the team would end up with 88 points and miss the playoffs.
Luckily the Jets will have an opportunity to improve on those numbers as the new season is only a few months way. After the most recent playoff defeat, the Jets will likely be hungry for success during the 2019-20 season.