Jets’ Season Could Be Doomed by Cheveldayoff’s Quiet Summer

Winnipeg Jets general manager (GM) Kevin Cheveldayoff has painted himself into a corner. He’s going all-in with his current roster after failing to make a significant move this offseason. The Jets need more top-six depth up front, but he has decided not to add it.

Kevin Cheveldayoff Winnipeg Jets
Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Despite what Cheveldayoff claims publicly, the Jets are not built to win a Stanley Cup. The offensive problems facing the club need to be addressed sooner than later, but right now, he seems willing to overlook them.

So, since he received fair praise for their growth as a team, Cheveldayoff is now facing fair criticism for the setbacks the Jets have suffered. While Central teams around them made significant additions to their roster this summer, the Jets have done next to nothing…

The Hockey News, 05/05/2022

Since the Jets’ appearance in the 2018 Western Conference Final, their success has steadily regressed, and the stats back that up. In 2017-18, they had a points percentage of .695, and that number has declined in each of the past four seasons to .543 last year; that’s a drop from 114 points in 2017-18 to 89 last season.

Related: Jets’ Central Division Foes Have Had Busy Offseasons

Those 114 points were second in the NHL at the time and only three behind the Nashville Predators, who won the Presidents’ Trophy that year. The 89 points, however, ranked 19th in the league. If that doesn’t indicate some changes are needed, I’m not sure what does. Retaining virtually the same roster that proved to have a mediocre offence suggests Cheveldayoff doesn’t see a problem. Unfortunately, there is. Hiring a new coaching staff is a start, but to rely on that alone to change the club’s narrative seems shortsighted.

Jets’ Lack of Depth Up Front

As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Standing pat on this offence is akin to that. The Jets lost Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny but have not replaced their production. Filling the hole with unproven players like Cole Perfetti and Morgan Barron, as Cheveldayoff has suggested, isn’t the answer. It’s an inexpensive gamble. They may be NHL-calibre players but have a combined 45 games of NHL experience between them. They’re definitely affordable, but this might also mean rushing their development and maybe setting them up for failure, which goes against the Jets’ philosophy of how they develop their young prospects.

Cole Perfetti Manitoba Moose
Cole Perfetti, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

As it stands, the Jets have five high-calibre scorers in Pierre-Luc Dubois, Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler, who is in the twilight of his career. Beyond that, Adam Lowry is the next top scoring forward who managed 21 points last season, while newly signed Sam Gagner – who had 31 points with the Detroit Red Wings – has yet to post a 20-goal season in his 15-year NHL career. David Gustafsson, who has dressed for only 28 games in his NHL career, could also be an option for the bottom six. The point is that Winnipeg lacks reliable scoring, and the GM seems to be banking on inexperience to pick up the slack.

For the Jets to survive this season, they need their core forwards to play consistently but, more importantly, stay healthy. Last year, Wheeler and Ehlers spent significant time out of the lineup with injuries, and the Jets don’t have the resources to handle that this season. As such, staying healthy will be critical in 2022-23.

Cheveldayoff Has Plenty of Blue-Line Depth

The defensive unit that took the Jets to the Western Conference Final in 2018 split up like The Beatles the following season. Jacob Trouba was dealt to the New York Rangers, Tyler Myers was signed by the Vancouver Canucks, and Dustin Byfuglien just quit. Since then, Cheveldayoff has been working hard to rebuild the blue line and has done well, but now it’s time to use those assets and build up the front.

The GM has seven NHL-caliber defensemen on contracts and three from the Manitoba Moose, who are NHL-ready and will be vying for a roster spot in training camp. Dylan Samberg, Ville Heinola and Johnny Kovacevic are looking to crack the lineup, but there is little room for them, not without Cheveldayoff making a roster move first.

Dylan Samberg Winnipeg Jets
Dylan Samberg is ready to make the jump to the NHL full-time. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Trading Brenden Dillon and his $3.9 million contract or Nate Schmidt and his $5.95 million deal to clear a roster spot would be an option to clear much-needed cap space since Samberg and Heinola are cheaper players and can step into the lineup.

Related: Jets’ GM Cheveldayoff Needs Forwards to Step Up to Keep Job

Another option would be to trade Samberg and/or Heinola if they are destined to languish in the Jets’ farm system for another campaign. They are both ready for the NHL right now and need to either be promoted or used to acquire some forward strength from another club. The discrepancy between the depth up front and on the blue line is glaring and needs to be used to the Jets’ benefit.

Jets Not Rebuilding

Time and time again, the front office has made it clear they are still in it to win. At some point, they either need to make a move to improve the roster or concede that it’s time for a rebuild. The window of opportunity is closing quickly as goaltender Connor Hellebuyck will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in two seasons, as will Wheeler, Scheifele, Dubois and Josh Morrissey.

If they want to win before those names hit the UFA market, the Jets need more forward help. They simply don’t have three lines that are a consistent scoring threat. There’s not enough offence, too much defence, and little wiggle room concerning the salary cap. Something needs to happen, and perhaps it will, but ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away.

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