After smartly choosing to stand pat at the trade deadline, Winnipeg Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to get busy in the offseason.
His first priority will be to add a top-four blueliner to a team that’s been defensively deficient all season long and has relied on a rotating cast of fringe players, waiver wire pickups, and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to bail them out.
Cheveldayoff will not have to settle for scraps this summer — he will have huge cap space and be able to offer a big-time player term as Dustin Byfuglien’s contract will be off his books. Luckily, there is a huge crop of quality UFAs to spend the money on now that the man who burned his team by not showing up for training camp is never returning.
Here’s a brief look at each of the 15 on the above list and the probability of them being Jets in 2020-21.
The Long Shots
Some on the list are complete non-starters as there is little chance of them donning Jets jerseys.
Alex Pietrangelo is an institution in St. Louis as the Blues’ captain and has spent his entire 12-year career with the now-perennial powerhouse.
The offensive d-man and 2008 4th-overall pick has no reason to leave the defending Stanley Cup champions. At 30-years-old, will be looking for the big contract that will take him close to retirement and give him a shot at a couple more rings.
The Jets have dealt with a battered blue line all season long and have lost more than 100 defensive man games. Nathan Beaulieu, Carl Dahlstrom, Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Morrissey, Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman, and Luca Sbisa have all been shelved at some point.
Therefore, they should be wary to add a player like the 29-year-old Schultz, who is a talented offensive defenceman but has missed significant time due to injuries in each of the past three seasons. It isn’t worth the risk to take on anything close to his current $5.5 million AAV even though he has the potential to be a big asset.
Kevin Shattenkirk won’t likely want to leave his current digs either. After being bought out by the New York Rangers last August, the Tampa Bay Lightning picked him up for a modest $1.75 million. The 31-year-old’s enjoyed a resurgent season for a Lightning squad that’s once again an Atlantic Division darling and has recorded eight goals and 25 assists for 33 points in a top-four role.
Despite having connections to Winnipeg and True North — he played for the original Manitoba Moose in 2010-11 and his brother Brandon played four seasons for the Jets between 2015 and 2019 — don’t expect Chris Tanev to be on the move, either.
Chris Tanev has spent his entire 10-year career with the Canucks and has logged 510 games with the franchise that signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2010. The alternate captain has struggled with injuries in the past few seasons but has been healthy in 2019-20 and is shouldering nearly 20 minutes per game for a Canucks’ team poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014-15. They’ll want him back next season as their upswing continues.
An eight-year veteran of 434 contests, Vatanen has good offensive upside but he doesn’t fit the Jets’ needs. He’s undersized at 5-foot-10 and although he’s a slick puck mover who can quarterback a power play, the Jets don’t need a player who’s basically an older version of Niku. Niku has had a rotten season due to a number of injuries — the most recent suffered while playing soccer before a game, of all things — but is still in the Jets’ plans for the future and has huge potential upside.
Vatanen, who the New Jersey Devils traded to the Carolina Hurricanes at the trade deadline, is also injury-prone. He has never played more than 72 games in a season.
The Intriguing Possibilities
A guy who can generate serious offence from the back end thanks to quick instincts and playmaking ability, Tyson Barrie has played in 550 NHL games.
Barrie spent his eight seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, three times eclipsing 50 points, before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer alongside Alexander Kerfoot in exchange for Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen.
Maple Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas shopped Barrie around in the weeks leading up to the deadline, but didn’t find a deal to his liking and ultimately decided to retain him for his inconsistent squad’s stretch run.
Barrie is not a shutdown defender — his possession numbers are nothing to write home about and he sports a career -66 plus/minus rating — thus wouldn’t be a panacea for the Jets’ tendency to give up too many high-danger scoring chances, but his ability to put up points and quarterback a power play make him an intriguing possibility nonetheless.
He spent nine seasons with the San Jose Sharks but the Philadelphia Flyers picked him up last June in a trade as the Sharks cleared cap space.
Braun has shown decently in his first season with the Flyers and has put up three goals and 16 assists while skating an average of 17:19. He has a wealth of experience, having suited up for more than 665 regular-season games and 84 playoff contests since being drafted in 2007.
The Flyers have approximately $3.5 million of cap space right now and don’t have a lot coming off the books at the season’s summation. If the 33-year-old asks something close to the $3.8 million he’s currently making, the Flyers might not be able to afford him.
Brodie is similar to Tanev: a player in his prime, on an increasingly competitive team with whom he has spent the entirety of his career. His situation, however, is quite a bit different. The Calgary Flames’ veteran of 631 career games doesn’t log quite as much ice time as he used to and his offensive production is down this season.
The Flames seem unlikely to re-sign him as he’s likely to ask more than they’re willing to spend and they added a pair of defensemen at the trade deadline in Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson who are also UFAs and may have more upside.
The speedy Brodie, who can jump into the rush and has undeniable offensive ability, is still just 29 years old and his underlying numbers are solid. He could provide the Jets’ defensive prospects in the pipeline with some veteran leadership for less than Byfuglien cost.
One of the youngest players on the list, the 26-year-old Edmundson would be returning to his home province if he joined the Jets.
The 2011 second-rounder and Brandon, Manitoba product spent four seasons with the Blues and won the Stanley Cup last season. He was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in September and has put up six goals and 13 assists this season while skating an average of 18:14.
The Flames, like the Jets, have some things to sort out on defence this offseason, as they have four UFA d-men to deal with. One of them is Erik Gustafsson, who they acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline.
Whether the 27-year-old is just a rental or someone the Flames will look to keep for seasons to come will be more clear after seeing how he impacts the Flames’ battle for a Western Conference wild card spot.
Gustafsson is a deft-puck mover and can produce points from the back end, but isn’t the strongest in the defensive zone, so the Jets should proceed with caution here.
Krug is going to cash in big this offseason, but who’s going to be dishing out big bucks is far from a foregone conclusion.
The Boston Bruins freed up some cap space at the deadline to make room to sign the 28-year-old — who has spent his entire eight-year career in Beantown — to a contract extension, but still may not be able to afford him as pundits predict he could command $8-million plus.
The small but offensively-adept left-hander has recorded 66 goals and 333 points in 520 career games and always seems to be in just the right position. He’ll be in huge demand despite his high price tag and would drastically improve any team, Jets included.
Scandella’s bounced around a bit lately and is on his third team of the season after the Montreal Canadiens traded him to the Blues on Feb. 18.
The veteran of more than 575 regular-season games and 39 postseason contests has had an excellent season despite his shifting scenery. If he does test the open market, it looks like the returning to Montreal would be his first choice.
“It was an absolute honour and privilege to play for my childhood team,” Scandella said recently. “It was only 20 games, it was short-lived, but being able to play in front of my friends and family — my mom being at every home game — it was just special. I can’t express how much I enjoyed it.” (from ‘Canadiens Notebook: Marco Scandella could return to the Habs,’ Montreal Gazette, 02/19/2020.)
The Most Compelling Candidates
DeMelo, of course, already plays for the Jets, as the team acquired him from the Ottawa Senators for the very reasonable price of a third-round pick on Feb. 19.
Related: DeMelo Deal a Deft One for Jets
The DeMelo addition was meant to give the Jets an immediate boost in the Western Conference wild card chase, and the cerebral, intelligent defenseman has shown very well in his first half-dozen games with his new club.
Although there’s no guarantee he’ll return, DeMelo said he’s open to re-upping if the fit is right. If he enjoys his time with the Jets down the stretch and sees a 2020-21 top-four role open for the taking, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t be fairly straightforward to re-sign.
Dillion, like Brodie, is another veteran who could provide a stable presence on the Jets’ back-end that doesn’t have much in the way of experience.
After spending four seasons with the Dallas Stars, he spent six with the Sharks, logging 13 goals and 75 assists for 88 points while skating an average of 17:40 and dishing out 1030 hits.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound behemoth would add some size and toughness to a Jets’ d-corp that’s pretty slight in stature: if they want a Byfuglien facsimile, Dillion’s it.
The 29-year-old was traded to the Washington Capitals at last week’s trade deadline. Whether he’s just a rental for their Cup run or someone they’re interested in retaining long-term isn’t yet clear.
Could 2020-21 be the season Travis Hamonic finally comes home?
There have been rumours since 2015 — especially after the hard-working, multi-faceted St. Malo, Manitoba product requested a trade from the New York Islanders — that one of his preferred destinations is Winnipeg.
He ended up going to the Flames instead, but three seasons later, the relationship seems to be reaching its’ conclusion: he has refused to undertake any contract talks throughout the 2019-20 season.
Hamonic’s current contract carries an average annual value of $3.86 million. If the Jets could get him for anywhere close to that, it’d be a huge boost to the teams’ back-end at a reasonable price.
The 15 outlined above are really just the tip of the iceberg. Other UFAs include Cody Ceci, Nathan Beaulieu (a current Jet), Michael Del Zotto, Tim Heed, Ben Hutton, Mark Pysyk, and Luke Schenn.
If the Jets’ defensive personnel isn’t vastly improved next season, there will be no one to blame but Cheveldayoff.
Do you agree with the list? Which defensemen would you like to see on the Jets next season? Comment below.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.