The Winnipeg Jets limped out of the All-Star break with a 3-7-1 record in January. After finishing second in the Central Division and hosting a playoff series last season, here are three players from the 2018-19 roster the Jets wish they still had right now.
It’s no surprise that two of the players on this list play defence, while the other is a forward who contributed in multiple ways. Two of them are finding success with their new team this season, while the third has been missing in NHL action.
Brandon Tanev: Thriving in Pittsburgh
When Brandon Tanev signed a six-year, $21 million contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins last offseason, I didn’t give him a second look; $3.5 million for a fourth liner? Good riddance. Well, now I’m second guessing myself.
In 80 games with the Jets last season, Tanev tallied 29 points. This season? He already has 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 52 games. He’s been spending most of his time in the top-six forward group, but the increased production comes with just an average of 32 seconds of extra ice time per game.
However, the Jets aren’t only missing him for his offensive ability — it’s his physical play, speed and penalty killing that they are missing most.
The Jets’ penalty kill wasn’t statistically great last season, ranking 22nd with a 79.2 kill percentage. This season, they’re icing the fifth-worst penalty killing unit in the league with an almost five percent drop in production from last season. Head coach Paul Maurice went to Tanev often when his team was shorthanded, an option he would likely love to have right now.
Although Tanev likely wouldn’t be playing in Winnipeg’s top-six, he added a spark to a team that desperately needs one.
Ben Chiarot: Adding Stability and Size in Montreal
Ben Chiarot signed a three-year deal worth an average of $3.5 million a year with the Montreal Canadiens this past summer. At the time, I thought it would be easy for the Jets to find a replacement, but four months into the season, I, and the majority of Jets fans, can say we’d like to have Chiarot playing in our top-four right now.
Winnipeg has tried to use their organizational depth and the waiver wire to fill the voids left by Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba and, most notably, Dustin Byfuglien. Those methods haven’t worked, and Connor Hellebuyck has had to play at a Vezina Trophy level to steal some wins this season, with the Jets giving up the fourth-most shots against per game (32.9)
The Jets actually gave up slightly more shots per game last season but were able to give their goalies a clear look at the puck. This season, their goaltenders have had to fight off more high-danger scoring chances.
Chiarot is playing an average of 23:27 a game, compared to 18:37 last season in Winnipeg. He’s seen a lot of time on the top pairing with Shea Weber and is already closing in on his point total from last season. In 78 games with the Jets in 2018-19, Chiarot put up 20 points (five goals, 15 assists). Already with 17 points this season (seven goals, 10 assists), he is on track to set a career high in points with two full months of regular season hockey to play. He’s maintaining the same plus/minus as last season at plus-six, but he’s playing against the opposition’s top units more often in Montreal.
The Jets don’t have Chiarot at their disposal anymore and will have to make a move at the trade deadline or be forced to play a combination of Luca Sbisa, Sami Niku, Anthony Bitetto, Tucker Poolman and Nathan Beaulieu in their bottom-four pairings for the rest of the season.
Dustin Byfuglien: Future with Jets Unknown
Winnipeg’s defence was expected to be a weakness this season, but it became a bigger issue when Byfuglien didn’t report to training camp. He’s still unable to skate and analysts have not been able to offer a clear understanding of what’s going on. What should the Jets do?
Whether you’re a Byfuglien fan or not, he brings energy unmatched by any other player on the roster. Sure, he pinches a lot and sometimes gets burned, but most fans would take him over any defender on the team other than Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. Byfuglien had 31 points (four goals, 27 assists) in 42 games last season with the Jets — including 16 power-play points. Pionk has been a force quarterbacking the power play, but having Byfuglien as another option wouldn’t hurt.
On Saturday, Sportsnet reported there should be more clarity on the Byfuglien situation soon, with the most likely scenario being that he will not return this season and management will revisit his future with the team in the summer. This opens up the possibility of gaining some cap space and more wiggle room at the trade deadline.
Whether the Jets will be buyers or sellers at the deadline is still undetermined, but freeing up Byfuglien’s cap hit will go a long way towards what the team can do, especially if they’re buyers again.
With seven of their next eight games at Bell MTS Place, the Jets must win the majority to stay relevant in a packed race for the two wild card spots, and they’ll have to do it without Tanev, Chiarot or Byfuglien. At least they will have the opportunity to add similar players to their roster if they become buyers at trade deadline time.
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