Coming into this offseason, it was clear the Winnipeg Jets needed to address the massive hole on their blueline, whether it be through trades or free-agent signings, but general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff still have plenty of work ahead of them to correct this position of need.
Aside from re-signing defenseman Dylan DeMelo to a four-year, $12 million contract, which was a very important move, the team’s front office still hasn’t added enough talent on the back end and they’ll be forced to rely exclusively on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck once again if this issue isn’t resolved in the next few months. That being said, they’ll need to become creative with locating another defenseman for the right price, as they don’t have much financial flexibility left without exceeding the salary cap.
Considering Winnipeg currently has just over $727K of cap space, according to Sportrac.com, landing another quality blueliner could prove to be extremely difficult and it’ll likely require subtracting a high-priced contract. While the club could explore swapping forward Patrik Laine for an elite defenseman once again, that probably isn’t an option they’re considering right now following the acquisition of center Paul Stastny.
So which player could potentially be on the chopping block? Well, it seems like there’s a strong chance forward Mathieu Perreault might be playing somewhere else when the 2020-21 campaign opens, since he’s scheduled to earn $4.125 million and will likely be utilized in a diminished role during his age-33 season. Though the veteran winger’s contract does include a modified no-trade clause, the former sixth-round pick would probably be open to accepting a trade to a franchise that’ll allow him to play more regularly next season.
If the Jets can move at least the majority of Perreault’s salary, if not all of it, then they would have enough cap space to acquire a top-four blueliner who could be positioned alongside defenseman Neal Pionk. While the free-agent market has been cleaned out significantly so far, there’s a chance veteran Travis Hamonic could serve as a solid partner on the team’s second defensive pairing.
While he’s not the same player that produced 33 points, 213 hits, and 131 blocks through 71 games in 2014-15, the 6-foot-2 blueliner is still capable of playing significant minutes and maintaining his role as a physical defensive defenseman. Adding to this, the right-hander has been one of the better defenders in two valuable categories over the last three seasons while also inching toward the 30-year old threshold.
Among all defensemen who’ve played at least 50 games since the 2017-18 campaign, Hamonic has recorded the 19th-most blocks (401), the 25th-most blocked shots per 60 minutes (5.96), and is tied for the 36th-most takeaways (86), according to NHL.com.
Despite this impressive production, the former second-round pick was limited to just 50 games this past season due to an upper-body injury along with the league’s shutdown in March. As a result, the Manitoba native’s production took a massive hit during this shortened regular season, which is likely a big reason why he’s still available on the open market.
During his third season with the Calgary Flames, Hamonic averaged 21:12 minutes of ice time (most since 2015-16), creating three goals, 12 points, 0.06 goals per game, 0.24 points per game, 110 blocks, 83 shots on net, 39 hits (career-low), along with 21 takeaways (lowest since 2016-17). Hurting his value even further, the former New York Islander decided to stay home during the 2020 postseason, which is understandable, but that prevented him from salvaging his poor showing during the regular season.
Since he hasn’t played more than 74 games in each of the last three seasons, it makes a ton of sense why teams across the league haven’t been willing to hand the 30-year old a lucrative contract this offseason. Taking advantage of that situation, perhaps the Jets could acquire the veteran defenseman on an inexpensive one-year contract, which would allow him to potentially rebuild his value and re-enter the free-agent market next summer.
Even though this would provide Winnipeg with two right-handed shooting defensemen on its second defensive pairing, this might be the best way to keep Laine on the team and help bolster their defensive group for next season. So at the very least, Cheveldayoff needs to consider making this type of move in the near future or his team could endure similar struggles in their own end of the ice whenever the 2020-21 season begins.