The Winnipeg Jets’ 2021-22 season was a disappointment, as they came into the season considered a Stanley Cup contender but drastically underperformed, finishing sixth in the Central Division and well out of the playoff picture.
In this series, we’ll take a look back on the season, player by player, and grade their individual performances with an eye toward their future with the team.
Nate Schmidt enjoyed a bounce-back season in 2021-22 that was clouded by defensive inconsistencies amongst the team.
Schmidt Bounced Back After Rough Season with the Vancouver Canucks
The Winnipeg Jets struggled defensively as a team this season. Because of Schmidt’s $5.95 million contract, his expectations were found to be higher than others, often resulting in people blaming the Jets’ defensive woes on him. In his first season with the new club, he rediscovered his game and was one of the bright spots on Winnipeg’s blue line. Schmidt found the most success when he was paired with Josh Morrissey, which was the case for most of the Jets’ defence core.
The 30-year-old left-handed defenceman was traded from the Canucks to the Jets during the 2020-21 offseason. They gave up a third-round pick in return, and Schmidt was able to bounce back this season and outperform the price tag. He finished with 28 assists and 32 points, which were both his highest totals in those categories since his 2017-18 season with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Players don’t typically find themselves having a bounce-back season this late into their career, so why is Schmidt an exception? The main factor was his usage, as he is an offensive defenceman whose strengths lie in transition and finding creative ways to move the puck up and down the ice.
With the Canucks, Schmidt started his shifts in the offensive zone only 34.21 percent of the time, which was the lowest of his career by a wide margin. However, the Jets started Schmidt in the offensive zone 54.71 percent of the time, which allowed him to play more into his strengths and hide his defensive deficiencies. Because of this change, he also saw significant jumps in Corsi percentage, expected goals percentage, and goal differential.
|Nate Schmidt||2020-21 (VAN)||2021-22 (WPG)|
|Expected goals %||42.77%||52.62%|
|Goal Differential (%)||33-59 (41.49%)||75-68 (52.45%)|
Paul Maurice and Dave Lowry Used Schmidt Differently
As well as they used him in comparison to the Canucks, Schmidt’s usage with the Jets was still all over the place. When Paul Maurice was the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets, he was on the top pair next to Morrissey and found himself playing on the second unit of the power play.
This is when Schmidt found the most success, as he was able to take chances offensively knowing that Morrissey was back to cover for him. When he is aggressive and taking chances, that’s when his talents are best utilized and he’s worth the big contract. Once Dave Lowry stepped into the head coaching position, Schmidt started bouncing around the lineup and couldn’t find chemistry with any of his new defence partners.
Schmidt ended up playing a large chunk of time, 236 even-strength minutes to be exact, on the third-pairing with Logan Stanley. Once he started playing with Stanley, Neal Pionk, and the odd games with Brenden Dillon, that is when his numbers started to alter. If the Jets want to maximize his talents next season, they will need to play him with either Morrissey or Dylan DeMelo, two defencemen that allow him to take chances and be a difference-maker.
Schmidt May Not Be Safe from Trade Talks
Welcome to the modern NHL, and the “flat-cap era”. Players like Schmidt who excelled in roles for their team the previous season will be shopped around in trades simply due to their high price tag, as he has three years remaining at $5.95 million per year.
While Schmidt may have had a bounce-back season, moving his contract off of the books might be even more valuable for a team that is in-between rebuilding and contention. Having said that, the new head coach of the Jets will have a say in whether or not they explore trade options for the offensive defenceman. If his usage is similar to the end of last season when he was playing largely third-pairing minutes, it’s likely they will look to move him.
If the Jets move him this offseason, it won’t take away from the good he did over the course of this past campaign, as he was a top defenceman on the team in 2021-22 and has the ability to excel next season if given the right role and opportunities. At age 30, he may never return to the level of play he displayed in 2017-18 with the Golden Knights, but he still can be an extremely valuable asset during the re-tooling stage of the current roster.
Overall Grade: B+
My name is Connor Hrabchak. I am 19 years old, and I am currently working towards completing my communications and media degree. I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I have been a die-hard fan of the Winnipeg Jets ever since they moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, which has inspired me to write about hockey and attempt to make it into a full-time career.