Toby Enstrom has been a good foot soldier for the Winnipeg Jets on the back end. While his offensive totals never approached that of his Atlanta Thrashers days, he was a calm, effective puck mover. The Jets were undoubtedly better with him on the ice this year.
All that, however, may be soon coming to an end. Enstrom’s contract is up, and for a variety of reasons, he may not be too keen to stay in Winnipeg. The Jets, for that matter, may not be too keen to keep him.
There are a lot of things to like about Enstrom. His underlying numbers are excellent. For some, that might be a function of playing on a good team, but Enstrom’s numbers were solid even when the Jets weren’t.
4th in corsi against/60
4th in shots against/60
12th in goals against/60
1st in scoring chances against/60
1st in high danger chances against/60
Best shutdown D in the league. It's Toby Enstrom.
We need more Swedish Players #Sabres
— Don Vito (@Vito_43) May 24, 2018
That may be exactly why he chooses to leave, however. Teams who do their research will know he’s a valuable commodity. With the Jets’ looming cap crunch and stated desire to re-sign Paul Stastny, they may not be able to afford what Enstrom feels he is worth.
With Sami Niku devastating the AHL this year and still on an entry-level deal, a younger and far less expensive left-shooting defenseman may be soon to make his Jets debut. Who knows what will become of Enstrom then? The uncertainty may drive him out as well.
Enstrom Slowly Wearing Down
While Enstrom’s underlying numbers have been solid as shown, his point totals have steadily declined every year since 2014. He put up just one goal and six points this year, and for a defenseman who’s ostensibly a puck mover, that’s a red flag.
The only Jets defensemen Enstrom outscored were Tucker Poolman (who played just 24 games) and Niku, who scored in his only NHL contest to date. It’s been quite a drop off for a man who once put up back-to-back campaigns of 50 or more points.
Enstrom’s games played have been on a steady decline as well. He played all 82 games in 2014 but hasn’t played a full year since. After managing 72 games in 2015-16, he played just 60 in 2016-17 and missed nearly half of 2017-18 with just 43 games played.
NHL players simply don’t last forever at their peak. Enstrom, an undersized defenseman who spent much of his first few years in Winnipeg playing big minutes and getting punished on the forecheck, appears to be feeling the effects of it.
A huge segment of Jets fans was very displeased with Enstrom this year. He was among their most polarizing players as a guy who routinely excels on the analytics front but frustrates with the eye test.
Enstrom is not built to be a physical defender, even though some fans expected him to be anyway. His skating, however, has taken a sharp decline, it seems, and for a small player that’s a kiss of death. It really showed at times in the playoffs.
Toby Enstrom has a team worst -36 corsi at 5 vs 5 through the first two games of this series. pic.twitter.com/xqmjb6wM76
— Tim Hiebert (@TimJHiebert) April 30, 2018
With that in mind and the Jets’ cap crunch, one certainly can’t see the Jets bringing him back at his current salary. And while the Jets have been patient with their prospects, Niku’s banner year indicates he’s ready for full-time duty that Enstrom may be standing in the way of if he stays.
The Jets will be spending to the cap or nearly so before too long. They’ll need to be wiser with their money. So how do they justify a multi-million dollar contract for Enstrom with a younger, likely better version on the way for less money?
On the other hand, for Enstrom, how do you justify staying in Winnipeg, a team that scratched you in its final game of the playoffs, when you can test the open market? We’ve seen the massive contracts that get meted out on July 1. Who’s to say some team won’t give Enstrom more than the Jets can afford?
Enstrom Ready for Greener Pastures
It’s no secret that Enstrom would make more on the open market than in Winnipeg. He’d also likely play more too, as he could find a team with a less-stacked depth chart. A team like the Buffalo Sabres could conceivably be interested if the above Tweet from Don Vito is any indication.
If the Sabres are indeed interested (and they should be), that would give future first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin someone from his own country to play with and learn from. You have to think both Enstrom and the Sabres would be interested in that.
Some have speculated that Enstrom may simply retire. His body is clearly beaten down after 11 seasons and who knows if he wants to uproot his family to move to a new city? He may have played his last NHL game.
If so, that would be something of a sad ending. He leaves disgruntled and dissatisfied with a franchise for which he laid it all on the line during 11 NHL seasons in which he posted an impressive 308 points in 719 games. Enstrom probably deserved better.
For the Jets, however, the time to win is now. The salary Enstrom could command and the players in the Jets’ pipeline itching for a crack at his playing time dictate it’s likely time to move on from him.
It’s a sad ending to be sure, but it’s one that has to happen for both player and team. One hopes Enstrom does find employment somewhere. If not, it’s been a great but hugely underrated career.