The Winnipeg Jets could potentially be getting two big pieces back within the next month or two, and they need them, badly.
Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was recently reported to have been making progress with his ankle to the point where he needs to test it out on the ice.
While there is still no imminent sign of his return, if there is any at all, this is positive news that should hopefully lead to some resolution one way or the other sometime soon.
Jets’ forward Bryan Little was seen wearing a yellow non-contact jersey while skating at practice yesterday and he will join the team on the upcoming road trip starting on Sunday in Chicago. There is still no timetable for his return and he is still expected to be out for quite some time.
With that said, seeing him skate during practice and being on the ice with his teammates is a really promising sign. After the scary incident back on Nov. 5 against the New Jersey Devils that left Little with a brain bleed and a perforated eardrum, it was thought the injuries could potentially be career-threatening.
Getting Little and Byfuglien back at some point down the stretch could be huge for the club if they are still in the playoff hunt. As of right now, that is a big if with the way the team has been playing.
Will It Be Enough?
As we all know, the Jets’ defence group has been anything but impressive this season and the forward group has gotten thrashed by injuries. But will getting Little and Byfuglien back in the lineup be enough for this team to make the playoffs?
In my opinion, no, it will not be for a couple of reasons. Byfuglien has barely played any hockey over the past calendar year and will need a lot of time to get back into the swing of things. He also was never great in the defensive zone to begin with, which is where the Jets are struggling at the most this season.
The Jets will have a tough decision on where to put Little within the lineup once he returns. Does he go back to second-line centre? Do they try him on right-wing on the second line? Does he fill in as the fourth-line centre and play more of a depth role?
Little is not the impact player he once was and will surely be another step behind if and when he returns to the lineup. Do not get me wrong, having Little and Byfuglien back will help the team a lot, but I feel the Jets will be too far out of the playoff race once they return (if they return) and their impacts will not be enough to propel them back into the race with the amount of season that will be left.
Trade Deadline Additions
I have recently stated in a past article that the Jets would be crazy to trade for a rental player this season and giving up their first-round pick to do so would be even worse. Getting players like Little and Byfuglien back around the deadline will hopefully serve as the “additions” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff would be looking for to save him from making a major mistake.
With that said, I still expect the Jets to be active at the trade deadline but in a selling manner. The Jets have players like Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov who they can move to get extra draft picks for the deep, talented 2020 NHL Draft.
Even someone like Jack Roslovic is a guy I would like to see the Jets move this season. Bryan Little could easily replace him once healthy this season and if you want to look further down the road to next season, the Jets could fill Roslovic’s spot with a guy like Kristian Vesalainen who will undoubtedly get another shot, or a summer free-agent signing.
Where Do Little and Byfuglien Fit In Next Season?
While the team could desperately use the help of Little and Byfuglien this season, where exactly would they fit in next season?
Both are under contract for a combined $12.89 million next season with Byfuglien being on the final year of his deal. I think unless Byfuglien wants out of Winnipeg, the Jets would be crazy to trade him. Assuming he is willing to come back and play, I think you could see a rejuvenated Byfuglien next season and he will still be a guy you want in the lineup.
Little on the other hand should see a diminished role both this season and beyond. I think he could fill the third or fourth-line centre spot nicely while also getting second power play and penalty killing duties as well.
Whether it be the rest of this season or even into next season, things will not change much with the additions of Little and Byfuglien if head coach Paul Maurice does not make adjustments.
I understand he got dealt a poor hand with the defensive group he has to work with this season but this team was still expected to make the playoffs – that dream is slowly starting to slip away one game at a time.