As the final days of October tick down, the Winnipeg Jets still have a little more work ahead of them as the front office continues retooling the club’s blue line, which was the biggest area of concern for them throughout this past season.
Despite re-signing defenseman Dylan DeMelo to a four-year, $12 million contract, along with a handful of depth signings, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff still need to add a quality blueliner who can skate alongside Neal Pionk on the team’s second defensive pairing. Since the free-agent market has been significantly cleaned out over the last few weeks, exploring the league’s trading block could prove to be a very valuable tool during this next stage of the offseason and it could definitely be an option for the front office in the near future.
According to Ken Wiebe of Sportsnet, there’s a chance the Jets could look to make another meaningful trade over the next few months and no, it wouldn’t include sending forward Patrik Laine in return. That being said, this potential transaction could bring restricted free agent MacKenzie Weegar north of the border in exchange for a pair of fellow RFAs, Jack Roslovic and Sami Niku.
While there’s an argument to be made about how Winnipeg shouldn’t trade Niku just yet, it seems their relationship is probably beyond salvageable at this point and the organization likely isn’t planning to utilize him as a top-four defenseman next season. With that in mind, this type of trade might be an ideal situation for both sides, as it’d provide the youngster with a fresh start and complete this team’s defensive corps for next season.
Considering the Jets are currently working with just over $2K of cap space, according to CapFriendly.com, making this trade happen could be very difficult and it’d only happen if the organization was confident in its ability to re-sign Weegar to a new contract. Adding to this, the timing of this deal would likely need to happen just before the regular season, as the team wouldn’t be able to absorb his salary until veteran Bryan Little was placed on long-term injured reserve.
If the Panthers’ defenseman is still available at that point, then Cheveldayoff would be able to make this acquisition official, as Little’s $5.291 million deal wouldn’t count against the salary cap while he’s injured. As a result, this would help the front office surprise the fanbase by making a significant move before their first regular season contest.
Taking into account these factors, it doesn’t seem like Weegar – who adores playing in the ‘Sunshine State” – would still be in Florida by the time next season begins, as several other teams across the league have been rumored to be interested in his services. That being said, if the Jets could make this trade happen, and it’s possible Cheveldayoff could pull it off, the 26-year old would fit perfectly alongside Pionk during five-on-five situations.
Despite being a right-handed shooting defenseman, the former seventh-round selection would provide a solid physical presence and he’d prevent plenty of shots from reaching the net, which would take some of the pressure off goalie Connor Hellebuyck. Though he’s been underutilized at times over his first three seasons in the league, it seems additional ice time would likely help him take his game to the next level and that’s exactly what the Ontario native would receive in Manitoba.
Among all qualified defensemen who’ve played no more than 200 games since 2017-18, Weegar has produced the 23rd-most hits (311) and he finished tied for the 36th-most blocks (243), according to NHL.com. In addition, the right-hander has also averaged 16:57 minutes of ice time, creating 13 goals, 41 points, 214 shots on net, along with 84 takeaways.
Adding to his encouraging resume, the youngster performed extremely well during his first trip to the playoffs and was awarded an increased role during the Panthers’ short run during the league’s return to play. Through four games, the 6-foot blueliner averaged 22:40 minutes of ice time, producing one assist, seven shots on net, seven blocks, seven hits, and a pair of takeaways.
While it remains to be seen how the Jets will address the hole on their second defensive pairing, it seems the fanbase will probably be forced to wait a few more weeks, or perhaps even longer, to find out who’ll be occupying that position next season. But if the team stands pat with the current roster, then they could endure similar defensive issues from this past season, which would be a complete disaster, making this offseason a colossal failure.