Going into the All-Star Game and then Players Association break, the Winnipeg Jets are on a four game losing streak and have lost six of their last seven games. They are currently three points out of a playoff spot in the West and there are three other teams (Chicago, Minnesota and Nashville) who are within three points of passing them in the standings. It’s not quite a dire situation that the Jets face at the moment, but it’s far from ideal and if the Jets can’t find the win column again and stay there more often then things might get real ugly in a hurry.
The problem is there is not a whole lot to indicate that the Jets situation will improve. By almost every measurable advance stat and metric, the Jets rank as bad as the likes of the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators in terms of offensive production and allowing high danger scoring chances. The Jets were kept afloat for as long as they were thanks to above average shooting and finishing talent along with Vezina Trophy (if not Hart Trophy) worthy goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck
But lately the Jets haven’t found the back of the net as often as they’d like, and Hellebuyck has regressed a tiny bit, posting sub .900 save percentages in seven of his last 12 games started. Nine of the Jets next ten games are at home, but home hasn’t exactly been so sweet for them as they’ve gone 11-11-2 at BMTSP, but on the slightly bright side, of those ten games, only four of them are against teams currently in a playoff position.
As Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff would say: There’s a lot of moving parts and balls in the air.
After their loss to Columbus, a frustrated Blake Wheeler summed up the situation the Jets were in quite well:
#NHLJets captain Blake Wheeler on the break for his club:
"I think it’s time to figure things out. We’ve got eight days to decide what type of push we want to make and what type of team we want to have going forward."
— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) January 23, 2020
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves Blake, but the question is, what exactly should the Jets do?
Here are five options…
1 – Relieve Paul Maurice of his duties
This is the one getting maybe the most play on social media and given how this season has gone for so many coaches around the NHL, seems like kind of the easy move to make. That the Jets struggle to defend and exit out of their own zone, and that they don’t get nearly enough pressure on opposing goalies would all suggest that maybe a change behind the bench is needed to bring in new ideas or a new system.
The problem with this thought is that you can’t pin all of the Jets struggles on Maurice.
Two of his star forwards missed all of training camp with contract issues. Four guys he had on defense as regulars last season were either traded or signed with new teams as free agents. His star defenseman nearly retired, then had surgery and we haven’t seen him at all this season. Injuries have taken their toll all over the lineup and the Jets have had to resort to bringing in three different players via waiver pickups to to patch holes this season.
Some would argue that Maurice has done a fine enough job in spite of everything the team has had to deal with and that instead of firing PoMo, maybe the GM should be looked at for the job he’s done, which brings us to…
2 – Relieve Kevin Cheveldayoff of his duties
Even before the start of the 2018-19 season, fans and media alike were starting to wonder just how long the proverbial “window” for a Jets Stanley Cup run would stay open. The summer of 2019 loomed large with multiple key unrestricted free agents needed to be signed and very little cap room to work with. Much like Paul Maurice, some have come to Cheveldayoff’s defense suggesting that there wasn’t a whole lot he could do given what he had to work with, but that reasoning comes off a bit like feeling bad for a floor painter who has painted himself into a corner.
Bryan Little’s contract aged very poorly very quickly and there is still four more seasons at over six million dollars per season left to go. Blake Wheeler’s contract may be going the same way with $8.25 million owed over the next four seasons as well.
Contracts to Dmitry Kulikov and Steve Mason backfired big time, and one can argue that the latter cost the Jets the chance to hold on to Joel Armia who has flourished in Montreal.
He also kicked the can that is Patrik Laine’s long term status with the Jets down the road to be dealt with after next season, which could lead to a much bigger pay-day than the Jets can afford to keep under a Salary Cap.
He’s traded the team’s first round pick two years in a row, and while he did get 2019’s pick back, he did so in a trade that in hindsight hasn’t worked out too bad, but at the time it was made, was widely panned by hockey observers everywhere.
It’s the current mess with the defense though that seems to be the biggest issue and the getting the most heat for. Is it a fire-able offense? Probably not, but that the Jets have gone from “Stanley Cup contender” to possibly missing the playoffs completely within the span of two years is a poor reflection on management.
3 – Make trades that can help with this season
If the option to move coaching or management isn’t the one to make, then perhaps it’s time to get active on the trade market.
There are two ways this option can go and the first would be to make trades with the thought of helping the team win and make the playoffs this season. As outlined at the start, it’s not as it the Jets are looking at a massive gap between them and a playoff spot. If Little and maybe even Dustin Byfuglien can come back for the final 30 games as healthy players, maybe the Jets consider trading a pick or a prospect away to provide additional help with depth on defense or at forward.
The one thing that may make this difficult is that at the moment you’re looking at four or maybe five teams league wide who you could call sellers at the deadline, with everyone else looking to add for a playoff run or a push to make the playoffs. This will drive up “prices” for players who might ultimately be rentals for a couple of months and makes for a seller’s market at the deadline. The Jets are already missing two of their seven picks in the upcoming draft, do they dare part with more? Would it be worth it to ship off a Kristian Vesalainen or a Logan Stanley now to find a way into the playoffs?
Maybe the idea of trading picks and prospects isn’t for you. You want to make trades but you’re pretty much ready to throw the towel in this season? If so, then it’s likely you want option number four…
4 – Blow it up for this season and start working on next season
2020 by multiple accounts is looking like a really good draft year and a lottery pick of any kind could net a team a highly regarded prospect, so maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the Jets to chalk this gong-show of a season up as lost and get a jump on coming back better than ever in 2020-21.
There isn’t much for the Jets to work with when it comes to moving current roster players out without having to deal with multiple No Movement Clauses such as the kind seen on contracts to Mathieu Perreault, Kulikov and Little. Players such as Gabriel Bourque and Luca Sbisa could get some interest, but wouldn’t fetch much beyond a draft pick in the later rounds at the very best.
It might not be worth it to make a trade at all regardless if you want to make a move to help out the current season or prepare for the next one, which leads us to the final option that the Jets have staring them in the face…
5 – Do nothing, and wait for the summer
Maybe hope for improved health, a return to shooting form by the offense and get more stellar goaltending from Hellebuyck. Maybe in the un-official second half of the season, the Jets defense starts to figure things out and gets stingier. (Hey, it could happen.)
Or maybe none of those things happen, the Jets continue this downward spiral of the standings and we just all ride it out to the end with the understanding that Cheveldayoff will have some big time work to do this summer.
(It feels like we’ve said that the last couple of summers in a row now…)
Let the expiring contracts expire. Sami Niku, Jack Roslovic, Mason Appleton and Jansen Harkins are all RFA’s this summer, but none of them feel as big of a hurdle to clear as Kyle Connor and Laine were last summer. Kulikov’s contract is off the books and it’s doubtful they’d re-sign him, so that frees up over four million in cap space.
And maybe by this summer we’ll all know what is going on with Dustin Byfuglien.
What option would you pick? Put on your GM hat (or if you’re about to fire the GM, your team chairman hat) and make the call. Let us know your thoughts below in the comments section or on either our Twitter feed or Facebook page!