The Winnipeg Jets’ 2021-22 season was a disappointment, as they came into the season considered a Stanley Cup contender but drastically underperformed, finishing sixth in the Central Division and well out of the playoff picture.
In this series, we’ll take a look back on the season, player by player, and grade their individual performances with an eye toward their future with the team.
Mark Scheifele’s 2021-22 season was tumultuous as he was offensively adept, defensively deficient, and ultimately disgruntled.
Scheifele Enjoyed Another Strong Offensive Season
Scheifele, in his ninth full season with the Jets, enjoyed another strong offensive campaign. He operated at a point-per game clip for his sixth-straight season, recording 29 goals and 41 assists for 70 points in 67 games. Sidney Crosby (17 seasons) and Connor McDavid (seven seasons) are the only active NHLers to have longer point-per-game season streaks.
Scheifele had 19 multi-point games, which included three three-point games and three four-point games.
Scheifele had a slow start, production-wise, perhaps partly due to contracting COVID-19 just after the season began and having to recover. In his first 31 games before the All-Star Break, he had eight goals and 21 assists for 29 points in 36 games, and average of 0.805 points per game.
In his 36 games after the All-Star Break, he rediscovered his goal-scoring touch and shone a lot brighter. Before missing the final nine games of the season due to an upper-body injury, he recorded 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points in 31 games, an average of 1.32 points per game.
Scheifele was fairly clutch, with a pair of hat tricks and three game-winning goals. He was a member of the first power play unit and 19 of his points (7 goals, 12 assists) came on the man advantage. He also won 50.7 per cent of his 848 face offs taken.
Scheifele’s Defensive Deficiencies, Lack of Effort, Hurt the Team
The offensive numbers do not tell the whole story, however. Scheifele had the worst defensive season of his career, and the shortcomings in his play without the puck hurt the Jets on many nights.
Scheifele was a team-worst minus-17, worse than even captain Blake Wheeler, and often displayed an unbecoming indifference in the defensive zone. Poor back-checking and glaring turnovers unfortunately became synonymous with his game.
While no one expected Scheifele to be one of the Jets’ top defensive forwards, one thing every teams needs from members of its leadership core at all times is effort in every aspect of the game.
No one who paid even passive attention to the Jets this season could argue with any credibility that Scheifele tried his hardest at all times. The half-heartedness and overall laziness that penetrated his two-way game led directly to many goals against, and for that, he was quite rightfully criticized.
Related: Jets’ Scheifele Has Offensive Success Diminished by Defensive Struggles
Scheifele was rarely held to account for these deficiencies; never by former head coach Paul Maurice — who resigned in December — and rarely from interim head coach Dave Lowry. Lowry did bench him once in the final minutes a late-January game against the St. Louis Blues after the centre made a number of egregious turnovers, but Scheifele still finished the season second among forwards with a 21:08 ATOI.
Scheifele Could Well Be on the Move This Offseason
While even a season ago, it would have been unthinkable to even suggest the Jets deal their first-ever draft pick and one of the faces of their franchise, but now an offseason trade is well within the realm of possibility.
Last month on TSN 1050, hockey insider Darren Dreger said that both the Jets and Scheifele have an “appetite for change.” For whatever reason, Scheifele has lost motivation, and a change of scenery would have the potential to rejuvenate him.
Scheifele is under contract for two more seasons, but sounded like someone with one foot out the door when speaking with reporters after the Jets wrapped up the season May 1 with a 4-3 win over the Seattle Kraken.
“I’m in the prime of my career. I just have to know where this team is going and what the direction is and what the changes are going to be, if any,” he said. “I have to think about my career and what’s going to be best for me.”
“Those are going to be talks with my agents and everyone in my family and stuff like that and figure out what I really want. So, it will be a tough talk tomorrow,” he continued, referring to a meeting with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff scheduled for Monday.
Cheveldayoff, at Monday’s end-of-season media availability, said Scheifele had not requested a trade, but the two had yet to have their meeting.
Schiefele’s $6.125 million AAV is more than reasonable for a point-per-game player and absorbable for most teams, even though the salary cap will only go up $1 million for 2022-23.
He would attract strong interest from contenders looking for another offensive threat, and would fetch a strong return. Given how badly the Jets’ underachieved this season and the necessity of significant changes, Cheveldayoff would be wise to at least listen to offers. He may be forced to not only listen to offers, but accept one, if the Monday meeting revealed Scheifele as no longer interesting in being a Jet.
The Jets are not thin up the middle like in the past. They have Pierre-Luc Dubois, who enjoyed a strong season and oozes leadership qualities with his effort levels. Dubois, a restricted free agent, would need to re-sign Dubois before the Jets trade Scheifele, of course. Top prospect Cole Perfetti is also in the pipeline; those two could be a compelling one-two punch up the middle.
All that being said, it would be interesting to see if Scheifele could rediscover a stronger two-way game under a better and more creative coach. The Jets are launching a full-scale search for a new head coach, Cheveldayoff said, which makes sense considering Dave Lowry did not provide the Jets any significant boost after taking over from Paul Maurice in December.
Related: Paul Maurice Did the Jets a Favour By Stepping Down
If Scheifele is still a Jet next season and his one-dimensionality is still an issue, the Jets will either have to pursue a trade then or just take the bitter with the better.