Jets Make Big Mistake Protecting Stanley Over DeMelo

Over the past few months, there was really only one point of debate when it came to the Winnipeg Jets’ Expansion Draft protection list: whether Dylan DeMelo or Logan Stanley would be protected from the Seattle Kraken.

The Jets’ — along with all the other NHL teams’ — protected list was unveiled yesterday morning and the question was answered. But in protecting Stanley, the Jets have made a massive mistake.

DeMelo Is a Proven Top-Four Defenseman

Dylan DeMelo, in 321 career games, is a known commodity and proven player. He is an utterly dependable top-four option who, while not offensively adept, rarely makes mistakes and can be counted on to make the correct reads and passes nearly 100 per cent of the time.

Throughout his career, he has been an analytics darling and his steady play was even described by head coach Paul Maurice as “coach’s porn.” His consistency is something the rest of the Jets’ defence, aside from Josh Morrissey, lacks. He is only 28, which means he is just in the beginning of his prime years.

Dylan DeMelo Winnipeg Jets
Despite being a bona-fide top-four defenseman, Dylan DeMelo has been left off the Jets’ protected list. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

DeMelo wasn’t utilized correctly in 2020-21 (he should have played with Morrissey every game on the top pairing) but he was still solid. Noted Bryan Johnston of Arctic Ice Hockey:

“DeMelo performed very well for the Jets this season. He ranked 30th among all NHL defencemen in Evolving Hockey’s wins above replacement (WAR), and 96th in expected wins above replacement (xWAR). Over the past three years he ranks 19th among defencemen in WAR and 59th in xWAR. Using this we can safely say that DeMelo’s performance this year was no fluke. He is a legitimate top-four defenceman, has been for awhile, and has been on two teams.

This author advocated for DeMelo to be protected over Stanley all the way since March, and caught a lot of flack for it. He also caught flack when he protected DeMelo over Stanley in THW’s detailed Seattle Kraken Mock Expansion Draft.

Stanley Isn’t “The Next Byfuglien”

The people giving the author that flack were from the large portion of the fan base who have had their better judgement clouded by a bad case of recency bias. They were probably the same fans calling Stanley a “total bust” just six months ago.

Stanley’s sudden emergence into a viable third-pairing option was a welcome development for the Jets’ in 2020-21. But he was sheltered in his 37 games and played far less a role than DeMelo.

A lot of fan chatter the author saw revolved around fears of losing Stanley because he’s “the next Dustin Byfuglien.” But to compare a rookie d-man with fewer than 50 games of experience — who isn’t even that physical for his size and isn’t particularly offensively-minded — to Dustin Byfuglien — who was an utterly unique x-factor who could turn a game on its head in myriad ways — is ridiculous.

The only similarity between the two is that both are big, but it seems Jets management caved in to fan demands and their sudden love of Stanley because he scored two goals against the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs.

“If the Jets’ vision of contending in the next few years includes having Stanley be a major contributor, that’s not a plan. That’s merely hope. Teams don’t win Stanley Cups on hope,” Arctic Ice Hockey’s Johnston wrote.

Jets Ignore the Evidence, State of The Blue Line, in Protecting Stanley

With the Jets’ defence in its current sorry state, exposing a veteran top-four defenseman on a team-friendly contract in favour of protecting a rookie is incomprehensible. Even with DeMelo, the Jets are still in need of another top-four guy.

Losing DeMelo would make the franchise’s biggest point of weakness even weaker, and leaves them razor thin on the right side. There’s not a ton of help coming down the pipe, either: the Jets’ top two defensive prospects in Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg are both left handed.

Leaving DeMelo unprotected could turn out to be the biggest mistake GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has made since tendering Blake Wheeler a back-loaded contract or trading away his 13th overall pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 so Vegas wouldn’t take Marko Dano or Tobias Enstrom in the Expansion Draft. It would be more unforgivable than either of those, because all the evidence was pointing to DeMelo as a no-brainer to protect.

Winnipeg Jets Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff may have just made one of the franchise’s worst mistakes in recent memory. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

This author is praying the Kraken select Mason Appleton instead of DeMelo, or that Cheveldayoff and Kraken GM Ron Francis have a side-deal worked out so Francis doesn’t select DeMelo, or that the Jets make a big blue-line free-agent signing or trade in the offseason if DeMelo does head west.

Related: 5 Good UFA Options for the Jets’ Defensive Corps

They’ll have to, in order to patch up their self-inflicted wound.

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