As the Winnipeg Jets continue to struggle in their push for the playoffs, they look more and more primed to sell at the Mar. 21 trade deadline. In the middle of their four-game homestand a week ago, they were three points out of a playoff spot and looked ready to make a run. They have since lost four of their last five games, and the playoffs now look like a long shot.
The Jets’ biggest trade market assets are forwards Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny. Both are pending unrestricted free agents (UFA), and it would be smart for management to recoup some assets as they likely won’t be able to retain them during the 2022 offseason.
After trading a third-round pick for Nate Schmidt, and two second-round picks for Brenden Dillon, Winnipeg’s blue line was supposedly fixed and regarded as an above-average group going into this season. Unfortunately, they have been one piece in the bigger picture that still needs to be addressed. Here’s how the Jets can begin preparing for 2022-23 right now.
The Jets’ Best Time to Sell is Right Now
To say the Jets are unlikely to make the postseason is an understatement. As of Feb. 27, Moneypuck.com gives them a 4.2 percent chance to claw their way back into a playoff spot. They would have to leapfrog four teams who are playing better than them.
Related: Winnipeg Jets’ Time to Sell Has Arrived
Moving off of forwards Copp and Stastny would be a good first step, but moving a defenceman to open the door for internal competition would be their next best option. Which defenceman would make the most sense to trade? Dillon reportedly has some market value. He’s a capable top-four d-man whose cap hit is $3.9 million for the next three seasons. With the Jets’ prospect pool loaded on left defence, it would be smart to move him and start to retool that group.
Depending on how they handle the trade deadline, next season’s team could look very different. Younger players should have a larger role, and the organization should be looking to make major moves after only winning only one playoff series over the past three seasons. Not only has the organization stated they will look for a new head coach, but they will also be searching for answers to improve their roster from top to bottom, but they should start by looking within the organization.
Heinola Headlines Younger, Internal Solutions on Defence
The strongest part of the Jets’ prospect pool is their defence. They have one of the best defensive cores with the Manitoba Moose, their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. Prospects Declan Chisholm, Dylan Samberg and Logan Stanley make up a strong group at left defence, but for them to get their reps and earn a spot in the NHL, Jets management will have to move one or two of the struggling veterans so that they can turn the page to the future.
Former first-round pick Ville Heinola shone in his eight games with the Jets this season but has since been sent back to the AHL. He played to his strengths by skating and exiting the zone well and showed clear improvement in his defensive game throughout his time in Winnipeg. In order for their best defensive prospect to get the playing time he has earned, the coaching staff will have to either play him over Nathan Beaulieu on the third pairing or trade a defenceman to make room.
The five highest-paid defencemen on the Jets are under contract until 2023-24, but if the team wants to begin the retool this season, they will have to trade one or two of them to make room for their highly-valued rookies who are on cheap contracts.
Jets Need Younger Forwards to Contribute This Season
With a record of 23-21-9, the Jets’ main focus this season should be to prepare for the next one. The first step will be to let the young players gain much-needed NHL experience. It’s time to see whether or not their highly coveted forward prospects can translate their game to the next level. Not only do the prospects need playing time to flourish, but if the Jets move Copp and Stastny, that gives more room for young forwards like Cole Perfetti and Kristian Vesalainen to crack their way into a bigger role next season.
Cheap entry-level contracts are where a team against the cap finds value. It’s how the 2017-18 Jets became a dominant team in the West and ended up making a deep run for the Stanley Cup. To return to the success that those glory days produced, they will have to start selling assets and finding valued contracts at positions of value. The easiest way for the Jets to re-tool and remain competitive in 2022-23 is to move off of veterans on expiring contracts, and start developing their young players this season.