As the 2018-19 season slips into its back half and the Feb. 25 trade deadline inches ever-nearer, speculation as to which players powerhouse teams might add to bolster their playoff runs are beginning to ramp up. The Winnipeg Jets, legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, are no exception.
There have been rumours recently that the Jets might be looking to make a move similar to last season when they acquired Paul Statsny. The addition simultaneously bolstered their already well-stocked offensive arsenal and clearly showed they believed their time to win had arrived.
This season, Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds is a player the Jets are rumoured to be keeping tabs on and may want to add as a final piece of the puzzle.
— theScore (@theScore) January 12, 2019
If reports are true, two questions arise. Where would Simmonds fit in the Jets’ lineup and who would the Flyers want in return?
Where Could Simmonds Fit?
Simmonds’ services would benefit nearly any team, including the Jets. The 30-year-old, who’s tallied 200 goals and 170 assists through 567 career NHL games, is an energetic and athletic power forward with a sneaky shot and never-say-die attitude.
However, the Jets are already an offensively-gifted team, so deep they struggle to find meaningful ice time for players such as Jack Roslovic, who would easily crack the top-six on weaker teams. That’s called a good problem to have. With that caveat in mind, however, there are some possible slots for Simmonds.
Right now, Nikolaj Ehlers is injured, but would likely be back by the time Simmonds is acquired, so let’s factor him in when discussing potential line combinations. Consider the following combinations:
Line 1: Connor-Scheifele-Wheeler
Line 2: Ehlers-Little-Laine
Line 3: Simmonds-Lowry-Tanev
Line 4: Perreault-Copp-Roslovic
In this scenario, the dynamic trio of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler would stay together on the top line. They’ve been together lately, but apart more frequently than not this season. They’ve shown the ability, both this season and last, to generate chances off the rush using their speed and an almost other-worldly ability to know where each other is on the ice at all times. They also make up the top unit of the Jets’ consistently dangerous power play. It’s a no-brainer to keep them together.
The second line is one that’s garnered mixed results. It was a nearly invisible at the beginning of the season, but found its stride and became a sudden strength in mid-to-late October. Bryan Little’s had a late resurgence with seven points in his last five games and found chemistry with Patrik Laine in the latter’s prolific and record-setting November. He’s drawn assists on nine of the Finnish sniper’s 25 goals this season.
More importantly, it gets Laine back to the right side (he’s currently playing on his off wing with Little and Roslovic.) Laine’s defensive deficiencies loom larger when he plays his off-wing. We recently discussed his struggles at length in context of how they may affect his leverage in this summer’s contract negotiations.
Laine has just four goals since November and a return to the right side could only help him get his confidence back. Many, given his prolonged slump, would call for him to be demoted to the fourth line, but I don’t think we’re there yet.
Here’s where Simmonds comes in. Pairing him with the truculent and physical faceoff specialist Adam Lowry and the speedy, tenacious and selfless Brandon Tanev could create one of the NHL’s scariest third lines.
Tanev already has a career-high 19 points this season and still has nearly a half-season still to go. He would definitely benefit from Simmonds’ offensive instincts. Simmonds would benefit from being put in good offensive situations by Lowry, who is one of the NHL’s elite faceoff men and wins nearly 60 percent of his draws.
The line would also be capable of grinding opponents down with physical play. All three have been known to throw their weight around — Tanev is first on the Jets with 136 hits, Lowry is second with 118 and Simmonds is third on the Flyers with 83.
Line four features Mathieu Perreault, who excels regardless of where his is in the lineup. Andrew Copp would remain as the fourth line centre. Unfortunately for Roslovic, who is finally getting his top-six shot with Ehlers out, would return to the bottom-six where he’s spent the majority of the season.
Two players, despite not playing poorly by any stretch, become casualties in this scenario. Brendan Lemieux would return to the press box and Mason Appleton would return to the Manitoba Moose for more seasoning.
What Would the Flyers Want in Return?
At 16-23-6, the Flyers are last in the Metropolitan Division. General manager Ron Hextall was fired in late November and head coach Dave Hakstol was shown the door a few weeks later. Therefore, the team will likely be sellers in the weeks heading up to the deadline, and be looking for high-round draft picks and prospects in return.
Dreger says if Wayne Simmonds becomes available, Flyers haven't made that decision yet, why wouldn't Canadian clubs like the Leafs, Jets and Flames be interested?
Dreger adds cost would come at a premium, Simmonds is a big part of the culture of the Flyers.
— NHL Prospects Watcher (@Prospects_Watch) January 8, 2019
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has loathed parting with high-round picks in the past — they’re a must in his “drafting and developing from within” strategy — but showed a willingness to do so last season when he sent a first-round pick and Erik Foley to the St. Louis Blues for Statsny.
A package of draft picks, perhaps 2019 first and second rounders, might appeal to the Flyers. The Jets have a number of prospects in the pipeline, including Declan Chisholm, Santeri Virtanen, Dylan Samberg and Kristian Vesalainen, and on the Moose, such as Michael Spacek and Logan Stanley that they could potentially include in such a package.
I spoke to my THW colleague and Flyers writer Matt Mastrogiovanni to see what the team may want in exchange for Simmonds. He suggested they could demand an established top-six forward.
“It’s tough to pick out one specific player that the Jets would be willing to part ways with,” Mastrogiovanni said. “However, personally I’d say Ehlers, Connor, and Little would be good returns for Philadelphia along with a possible mid-range/high-range draft pick. At this point, I think the Flyers need to add more depth scoring, as well as (add) a near top-tier goalie as a good mentor and tandem partner to Carter Hart, as we could see a lot more of him down the road.”
Simmonds Could Make Sense for Jets… At the Right Price
Acquiring Simmonds would make sense for the Jets as a pure rental. He’s in the final year of a six-year contract that pays him an AAV of $3.97 million. With the Jets’ impending cap crunch and need to sign Laine, Connor and Jacob Trouba to extensions this offseason and Josh Morrissey to one next offseason, there’s almost zero chance they could retain Simmonds past this summer.
However, it only makes sense at the right price. If what Mastrogiovanni says is true, and the Flyers demand Ehlers, Connor or Little, don’t expect the Jets to move forward. Trading away any of those three would be, at best, a lateral move and sacrifice long-term success for potential short-term gain. That’s not Cheveldayoff’s game.
Don’t expect the Jets to be able to help the Flyers on the goaltending front, either. Connor Hellebuyck signed a six-year extension last summer and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Rentals often fail but sometimes work out exceptionally well. We saw the latter last season, when Statsny came in, caught lighting in a bottle between Ehlers and Laine, and was a key contributor down the stretch and in the Jets’ run to the Western Conference Final.
The Jets don’t absolutely need Simmonds. They’re 29-14-2, first in the Central Division and one of the NHL’s elite teams. However, adding Simmonds, or another player of his ilk, would definitely make them better in the short-term and boost their chances of hoisting Lord Stanley’s mug in 2019.
Do you think the Jets should trade for Simmonds? If so, where do you think he could fit in and who should the Jets part with to get him? Leave a comment.