Can Derek Forbort Help the Jets’ Defence?

The Winnipeg Jets’ signing of Derek Forbort to a one-year contract worth $1 million came with some derision from Winnipeg Jets fans on social media, with many expressing frustration that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has not yet made a move to substantially improve the oft-disastrous defence that needed Connor Hellebuyck to bail them out night after night in 2019-20.

Forbort — the first non-internal blue-line signing the offseason for Cheveldayoff — is certainly not who the fans wanted. They wanted Alex Pietrangelo (unrealistic, but fans often dream) or someone else of higher profile. It’s always the smallest signings that seem to generate the biggest reaction among Jets’ faithful.

The initial reaction to the signing aside, the true question is: can Derek Forbort help the Jets’ defence?

Forbort Has Size, Top Four Experience

The answer to that question is yes, he can.

Forbort, 28, comes to the Jets a veteran of 275 career games. Originally selected 15th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, he spent his entire career in L.A. before being traded to the Calgary Flames at February’s trade deadline.

Derek Forbort Los Angeles Kings
Derek Forbort comes to the Jets after spending five seasons with the Los Angeles Kings but wrapping up his 2019-20 season with the Calgary Flames. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A left-handed defenceman who stands 6-foot-4 and weights 220-pounds, Forbort is noted as being reliable, strong on the penalty kill, and capable of logging big minutes: he’s skated an average of 19:55 in his five-year NHL career.

With the Kings, Forbort was a top-four mainstay, mostly skating with Drew Doughty. He’s recorded six goals and 53 points, dished out 463 hits, and blocked 478 shots in his career.

One thing Forbort is blessed with is size, something the Jets need. Their defense has been diminutive since Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Chiarot, and Tyler Myers all departed.

Forbort Not Without Question Marks, Limitations

However, it’s arguable Forbort is a true top-four defenceman. Playing with an elite talent such as the 2016 Norris-winner isn’t exactly the toughest assignment. Forbort won’t play with anyone of close to Doughty’s calibre with the Jets.

Drew Doughty Los Angeles Kings
Drew Doughty, an elite talent, was Forbort’s main partner with the Kings. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Forbort is also coming off a 2019-20 where he was limited to 20 games due to an offseason back injury that kept him on the shelf until January. But he showed well in seven games with the Flames between the trade deadline and the COVID-19 season pause and in this summer’s playoffs, he played all ten postseason games, scoring one goal and adding an assist and logging an average time on ice of 17:29.

Another knock against Forbort as a top-four d-man is his limited offensive ability: he’s never recorded more than 18 points in a season. It’s not that the Jets necessarily need huge point production from the back end given their complement of dangerous forwards — bolstered even further by the reacquisition of Paul Stastny — but do need defensemen at least capable of getting those pucks out of the defensive zone and to those forwards.

in Winnipeg, he is more likely to be a third-pairing or depth defenseman, albeit a capable on.

Cheveldayoff Can’t Be Done With the Defence

The Forbort signing has brought the Jets right up to the cap ceiling, but that doesn’t mean Cheveldayoff is done adding to his defence. Some have claimed that the Jets are just one Forbort up and one Dmitry Kulikov down from having the same blue line as last season.

That actually not entirely accurate as top prospects Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg will both push for roster spots as well. But betting on rookies to be NHL ready is a dangerous game as even if both Heinola and Samberg make the team, there will undoubtedly be growing pains.

Of the four back-end signings Cheveldayoff has made so far this fall, (Dylan DeMelo, Nathan Beaulieu on a two-year deal, and Luca Sbisa on a one-year contract in addition to Forbort) only DeMelo is a bona-fide top-four talent.

Cheveldayoff will have another $5.2 million at his disposal as soon as Bryan Little, who has been advised by doctors not to play this upcoming season, is transferred to long-term injured reserve.

Winnipeg Jets Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to take use money he’ll gain via Bryan Little’s move to the LTIR to continue to address his team’s needs on defence, because he hasn’t done enough so far. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

That’s money he must use to add another top-four defenceman, either via free agency or trade. Manitoban Travis Hamonic still seems like an excellent fit, but the Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck reported Sunday that he’s been told by a source the Jets haven’t reached out to him yet.

The Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre also reported Sunday that the Cheveldayoff is actively shopping restricted free agent Jack Roslovic and is seeking a top-four left-handed D in return.