3 Biggest Winnipeg Jets Priorities This Offseason

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was given a three-year extension just weeks ago and now faces his most pressure-filled offseason yet. This article will focus on the roster priorities that the Winnipeg Jets are tasked with rather than focusing on the glaring need for a head coach and repaired culture within the locker room. Their biggest priority is signing a good head coach, but that’s not a unique priority that just the Jets will be facing this offseason.

After a disappointing season, the Jets have plenty of needs to address as they try to return to the playoffs. Here are their three biggest priorities this summer.

1. Re-Sign Pierre-Luc Dubois

The number one priority for the Jets this season is re-signing Pierre-Luc Dubois. The former third overall pick finished a career year with 28 goals and 60 points. He struggled in 2020-21 after being traded for Patrik Laine, but with a full offseason to regroup, he returned to being an elite power-forward down the middle.

Related: Winnipeg Jets’ 2021-22 Report Cards: Pierre-Luc Dubois

The Jets acquired him to create a dynamic one-two punch with Mark Scheifele. Elliotte Friedman confirmed that Scheifele has yet to request a trade, but if they were to explore possibly moving Scheifele, it’s essential that they secure Dubois for the long-term. The 23-year-old is arguably the team’s number one centre already, and he could retain that role for the next five years if they are able to negotiate a deal. In a season filled with questions surrounding the Jets’ effort levels and defensive woes, Dubois led by example on the ice by giving it his all for the 81 games he played this season.

This begs the question, what will Dubois’ contract look like? In the past with Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, and Nikolaj Ehlers, Cheveldayoff has preferred to go with as long of a term as possible. If Dubois were willing to go the same route, he would be able to command anywhere from $7 million to $9 million in average annual value (AAV). The Jets have the cap space, the need for a future top-line centre, and the restricted free agent rights to him. Whether they decide to compete or fully rebuild, he should be a part of their plans moving forward.

2. Jets Need to Figure Out Their Middle-Six Wingers

Outside of their top two wingers in Connor and Ehlers, the Jets are facing plenty of questions regarding their forward depth going into next season.

At the 2021-22 NHL Trade Deadline, the Jets traded away Andrew Copp and acquired Zach Sanford and Mason Appleton, both of who are due for a new contract this offseason. Paul Stastny and Evgeny Svechnikov are amongst the group needing new deals as well. Cole Perfetti played well in limited NHL action last season, and Morgan Barron has been a force for the Manitoba Moose this season. All of that without mentioning Blake Wheeler, who is in for a demotion from the top-line minutes he has played over the last decade.

Cole Perfetti, Winnipeg Jets
Cole Perfetti, Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

As an unrestricted free agent, Sanford is unlikely to return. Barron and Appleton are solid candidates to fill out either third or fourth-line roles, and Wheeler sliding down into the bottom-six is a real possibility. After hitting the 20-goal mark for the first time since 2013-14, the Jets should be looking to re-sign Stastny for next season, as he can provide scoring and versatility up and down the lineup.

The most cost-efficient route would be to have Perfetti and Svechnikov, who thrived in top-six roles last season, resume those roles. Anybody who played on Connor and Dubois’ wing had plenty of success, but the Jets should take that as an opportunity to save money within their top-six. If they decide to go with this option, they would have more money to spend to fill holes throughout the lineup.

Goals %16-14 (53.3%)6-2 (75%)
Expected Goals %17.4-15.2 (53.4%)6.4-5.4 (54.2%)
Corsi %328-311 (51.3%)155-120 (56.4%)
Stats with Connor & Dubois (Stats via Moneypuck.com)

3. Make Room for Defensive Prospects

The Jets traded for Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt last season, rounding out their defence core in an effort to take the next step as a franchise. Instead, they took a step backward and took away valuable playing time from the prospects that they had spent years developing. The new head coach will have a major say in whether or not they decide to move on from the veteran defencemen they recently acquired. Elliotte Friedman reported that Barry Trotz, presumably at the top of Winnipeg’s list, was interviewed on May 17. Trotz would have the final say on whether or not Dillon and Schmidt are to resume their roles on the team.

The reason this is such a difficult decision for the Jets is because of how many defence prospects they have knocking on the door of full-time NHL jobs. Ville Heinola, Declan Chisholm, and Dylan Samberg all played well in limited NHL action last season. As a small-market team, they will need to use cheap rookie contracts to gain an advantage. That should be no different for their defence.

Last season, the Jets spent just over $25 million on their defence core, with only one contract coming under $3 million. In order to return to their 2017-18 ways of dominance, they’ll have to use these young defencemen they’ve spent high draft capital on.

Ville Heinola Manitoba Moose
Ville Heinola, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Heinola finished the Manitoba Moose’s playoff run with five points in five games, as his offensive instincts were on full display all series long. Samberg’s ability to be physical and move the puck in transition makes him a prime candidate to take Dillon’s spot alongside Neal Pionk. Chisholm was the Moose’s best player in the playoffs, recording seven points in five games while being a force at both ends of the ice. The best time for him to take the NHL leap is now, but due to the Jets’ crowded defence core, he has to remain with their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.

There’s no doubt that this may be Cheveldayoff’s most important offseason of his tenure. There has never been more frustration amongst the fanbase, and the fortunes of the franchise need to be turned around sooner rather than later. If the Jets can nail these three priorities, they will be well on their way to returning to a playoff contender.

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