Who do the Winnipeg Jets protect? Dylan DeMelo or Logan Stanley?
It’s a question that wouldn’t have been asked two months ago, but it’s being asked now by Jets fans and media alike.
But should the d-man the Jets leave exposed to the Seattle Kraken at the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft even be a question?
Does it Have to Be a Choice Between The Two?
Yes, it does.
The Jets can either protect seven forwards and three defencemen from being selected, or eight total skaters. With such a deep core of forwards they don’t want to head to the West Coast, there’s no way they take the latter option.
Two of the three d-men who will be protected are no-brainers. Josh Morrissey, despite not being as effective since losing Jacob Trouba as a partner after the 2018-19 season, is still an anchor on the blue line and an important member of the Jets’ leadership group. He’s not going anywhere.
Neal Pionk, meanwhile, has been nothing short of a revelation since coming the other way in the trade that sent Trouba to the New York Rangers, excelling on both sides of the puck. There’s no way the Jets want to lose him, even though he’s a pending restricted free agent due a big raise.
So it all comes down to the rookie Stanley versus veteran DeMelo, currently defensive partners.
DeMelo Has Experience, Stanley Has Potential
DeMelo isn’t a flashy player or someone who will put up a lot of points — he has four assists this season and still hasn’t scored a goal since being acquired from the Ottawa Senators more than a year ago — but he rarely makes mistakes. He is highly intelligent and can be depended upon to make good reads with the puck and break up scoring chances with his aggressive style.
Writes Bryan Johnston of the blog Armchair Jets’ GM:
According to Evolving-Hockey’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement), since the start of the 2019-20 season his impact has been worth 1.7 WAR, good for 49th among all NHL defencemen. If we look at this year’s impact alone, according to the model he’s been worth 0.9 WAR, which is good enough for 25th among NHL defencemen. He doesn’t have any crazy on-ice percentages that are highly inflating this number either. He has been flat out awesome in such an unassuming way.
Stanley, meanwhile, made his NHL debut on Jan. 18 after Tucker Poolman was shelved due to contracting COVID-19. He seized his opportunity and and has played 22 games now, tallying one assist and skating an about 12 minutes per game.
No one expected Stanley to be NHL-ready this season, and he didn’t seem anywhere close to it in two seasons with the Manitoba Moose. He was one of the organization’s most convenient whipping boys and written off a bust by many.
But the 6-foot-7 is proving that prognosis wrong. There’s a lot to like about his game, including his ability to make good things happen in tight spaces, his long reach that means he’s never truly out of a play despite not being too fleet of foot, and his plus/minus rating that’s one of the best on the team.
Jets’ Self-Identity Will Factor Into the Decision
The Jets view themselves as a bona-fide contender that can win the Stanley Cup. Whether or not you agree, that’s reality. Head coach Paul Maurice has said in the past that he owes it to his core players to have a commitment to winning.
They’ve certainly got the offensive firepower to make a run, with their forward depth at an all-time best. And they’ve got a Vezina winner in goal in Connor Hellebuyck.
The blue line has been the bugaboo, though: the one aspect that might keep the Jets away from a real shot at hockey’s top prize.
The Jets are no longer in draft-and-develop mode like they were in the first handful of years after relocating from Atlanta. Therefore, they will protect whoever they feel gives them a better chance to win.
The Pendulum Swings in DeMelo’s Direction
DeMelo is a known commodity, while Stanley is still a question mark.
It’s undeniable that Stanley’s been dependable and his emergence this season as a legitimate option has been sudden. But remember, this is a player who a few short months ago many thought who would never crack an NHL lineup.
His play has been impressive, but his minutes have been sheltered. It’s important not to fall victim to recency bias or suddenly consider him the next coming of Zdeno Chara.
DeMelo is can play top-four minutes and carries an affordable $3 million cap hit. He has a strong body of work to draw from through 299, and was an analytics darling even when playing for an abysmal Senators’ squad. His play has been described as “coach’s porn.”
On the flip side, it’s uncertain if Stanley will ever become much more than he is now, even as he continues to get more comfortable with more experience. Stanley will be 23 by the time the Expansion Draft comes around, and at that age, defenseman like Trouba and Morrissey already were what they were.
Losing Stanley would sting a bit, especially if he bucks the trend and develops significantly over the next few seasons. But it would not sting as much as losing DeMelo.
This Discussion Could All Be For Naught
There’s a chance both will still be with the Jets in 2021-22.
The Kraken might opt to select to take a different defenseman such as Sami Niku. They might opt to take a forward. They might opt or select Laurent Brossoit.
There’s also the potential GM Kevin Cheveldayoff makes a deal with Kraken GM Ron Francis to get him to select someone lower-calibre, similar to the deal he made with Kelly McCrimmon of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Prior to the 2017 Expansion Draft, Cheveldayoff traded Winnipeg’s 13th-overall pick in the 2017 Entry Draft (the Golden Knights used it to select Nick Suzuki) and a third-round 2019 selection to the Golden Knights in exchange for the 24th overall pick (the Jets used it to select Kristian Vesalainen.)
That’s obviously a lopsided deal, but the Jets also got out of it a gentlemen’s agreement that Golden Knights would take aging veteran Chris Thorburn instead of Tobias Enstrom or Marko Dano.
To wrap things up, the fact this article exists at all is a good thing. Stressing out because you can’t protect all your good players means the GM has done a good job.
Unless something drastically changes between now and July 21, expect DeMelo to be rightfully protected and Stanley to be exposed but not necessarily selected.