The Winnipeg Jets defensive core is in shambles. So far this off-season, the Jets have traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers and have lost Tyler Myers to the Vancouver Canucks in free agency. Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff managed to add Neal Pionk in the Trouba deal, but that’s it.
Per our sister site, DailyFaceoff.com, the Jets’ defensive pairings are as follows:
Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien are leading the charge. Per Corey Sznajder’s data, Byfuglien and Morrissey posted a high break-up and possession exit percentage last season. They also had a high WAR/min and WAR (Wins Above Replacement), per EvolvingWild’s data. Unfortunately, Byfuglien and Morrissey are the only Jets defenseman who have proven to be consistently reliable.
Sami Niku has a lot of promise, but has had some bumps in his first couple of stints in the NHL. In 30 games played last season with the Jets, Niku recorded 1 goal, 3 assists, ~14 minutes of ice time per night, a 44.1 corsi-for percentage and a 56.8 offensive zone start percentage. Given Niku’s offensive zone start percentage, you would hope that his possession metrics would be much higher. Unfortunately, that is not the case, but Niku is still young and developing. He is a great skater and has proven to be a power-play asset.
Aside from Niku, Morrissey and Byfuglien, the Jets defensive unit isn’t great. Dmitry Kulikov and Tucker Poolman aren’t effective blue-liners. Kulikov posted a relatively high possession exit percentage last season, but he is not a break-up specialist and will let his opposition dominate him in his own zone. Poolman is a 7th defenseman. When he was called upon last season, he was adequate. Poolman posted a 53.3 corsi-for percentage, but his corsi-for was inflated due to his lack of ice-time. Per hockey-reference.com, Poolman averaged 12:34 minutes a night last season. If the Jets give Poolman more ice-time, it is likely that his corsi-for percentage will be much lower, most likely under 50.0%.
Neal Pionk is the sixth defenseman. As a sixth defenseman, Pionk is not a bad option. He has some flaws as he can not be trusted in his own zone, but Pionk can be an asset in the offensive zone. Last season, he proved that he can be ineffective defensively as he posted a low WAR and WAR/min. On the flip side, Pionk had the highest power-play GAR (Goals Above Replacement) of the New York Rangers defensive core. Sadly, his even strength GAR and short-handed GAR were one of the worst on the Rangers. If Pionk can show signs of development defensively and produce better at even strength, Pionk will be a solid sixth defenseman in Winnipeg.
Due to the Winnipeg Jets’ cap situation, they were not able to make a splash in free agency and add another high-caliber defenseman. They need their 17.592 million in cap space to re-sign Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Eric Comrie to new deals. There are still a couple of ways that the Jets can improve their defensive core.
The Jets could sign former Toronto Maple Leafs left-handed defenseman Jake Gardiner to a one-year deal. Surprisingly, Gardiner has yet to be signed.
An alternative route for the Jets is to make a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers for left handed defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. The Flyers have a surplus of defensemen after adding Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen via trade. Plus, the Flyers could use a boost in the offensive zone, perhaps the Jets might be open to striking a deal that would send Nikolaj Ehlers to Philadelphia. If the Jets made an Ehlers/Gostisbehere swap, they would also be able to add some more cap space, as long as the Flyers do not send another rostered player over to Winnipeg. Ehlers carries an annual average value (AAV) of 6.0 mil, while Gostisbehere has a 4.5 mil AAV.
The last option is that the Jets stand pat and hope that left handed defensive prospect Logan Stanley continues to develop at a fast rate with the Manitoba Moose. If Stanley can continue to develop at a fast rate, he could jump into the Jets lineup and play alongside Niku.
stats from EvolvingWild, Corey Sznajder, Hockey-Reference.com