The Winnipeg Jets have persevered with a patchwork defence and a bunch of journeymen for most of this season. However, with the number of injuries they have right now, they may not be able to address their battered blue line internally and may have to seek outside assistance.
Injuries Abound on Back End
Winnipeg Jets defensemen are dropping like Winnipeg’s mercury in mid-January.
The latest player to go down was Carl Dahlstrom, who left Tuesday’s tilt against the Vancouver Canucks with an upper-body injury late in the second period and did not return. Head coach Paul Maurice reported the injury is “not going to be short term.”
Dahlstrom will join Nathan Beaulieu — who has had a rotten campaign and went down with his third injury of 2019-20 two weeks ago — and Tucker Poolman — who suffered a lower-body injury Sunday against the Nashville Predators and is out until the end of the Jets’ current homestand or maybe longer — on the infirmary.
Dmitry Kulikov’s not particularly healthy ever. In returning Jan. 9 against the Boston Bruins after missing 17 games with an upper-body injury, he played just two games before being forced to sit out Tuesday’s game with the flu. Nor is Luca Sbisa, who missed Sunday’s contest due to some months-long “bumps and bruises.”
Dustin Byfuglien is nearing a place in his rehabilitation process that he needs to test his ankle on the ice. However, it’s unknown when that will be, if he’ll ever return to the team he suddenly walked out on back in September, or if he’ll be in good enough shape to make a positive impact if he did end up pulling on a Jets jersey again.
Overall, the Jets have lost 48 man-games on defence. That figure doesn’t include Byfuglien missing the whole season thus far, nor does it take into account that Sami Niku hasn’t been available to call up for most of the season due to a few different injuries he suffered in his very tough first half.
Who’s Left to Play?
Currently, the Jets have just five healthy defensemen, six if Kulikov isn’t too sick to suit up Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning: Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Sami Niku, Anthony Bitetto, and Sbisa, who played Tuesday and logged a season-high 23:31.
That’s a less-than-ideal state of affairs, to say the least. Kulikov, Morrissey, and Niku are the only ones who played for the Jets last season, and Niku’s only recently returned.
Bitetto is an offseason depth addition no one expected to play a career-high 37 games already and Sbisa, while mostly solid, is a waiver-wire pickup.
Internal Solutions Look Stopgap
The Jets will need to call someone up from the Manitoba Moose given they need at least one extra d-man. Looking at the farm club, there are only two options, and neither of them look like anything more than extra bodies.
The Jets will probably recall Cameron Schilling, the 31-year-old journeyman and veteran of more than 500 American Hockey League games, to be their seventh defenseman, but he might not play. The Moose’s alternate captain appeared in four Jets’ games last season but has played just 10 NHL contests in his career.
They could also recall fourth-round 2014 pick Nelson Nogier, who has 11 NHL games to his name and has been a Moose mainstay this season despite not putting up many points.
Logan Stanley shouldn’t be on the radar for a recall, as the towering sophomore has struggled to stop even AHL competition this season and has a team-worst minus-17 rating in 27 games.
2017 fifth-rounder Leon Gawanke, meanwhile, has impressed in his rookie season with his poise and puck-moving ability, but he’s just that, a raw rookie not ready for primetime.
Potential Trade Targets
The Jets may have no choice but to swing a trade. They’re not likely to take on much salary or a long-term contract, as they’ll need most of the money they’ve got if Byfuglien returns. They’ll likely be in the market only for players on modest or expiring contracts.
As Pierre Lebrun reported, the Los Angeles’ Kings Alec Martinez is available. The two-time Stanley Cup winner and veteran of 586 NHL games can play both sides and the Jets could use the flexibility. Jack Roslovic, who has struggled mightily of late despite ample opportunities on the top six, and Kristian Vesalainen, who is having a mixed-bag season with the Moose, are two potential pieces the Jets could send to the Kings in exchange for Martinez or to another team for a defenseman of a similar calibre.
If the Jets don’t want to part with the prospect and second-rounder it’d take to get Martinez out of sunny California, there are many defensemen on expiring contracts that would cost the Jets just a draft pick or two.
They include the Anaheim Ducks’ Michael Del Zotto and Korbinian Holzer, the Nashville Predators’ Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber, the Kings’ Ben Hutton, the Ottawa Senators’ Mark Borowiecki and Dylan Demelo, and the San Jose Sharks’ Tim Heed.
It’s unknown if any of these teams want to part with any of these players. However, if the Jets do end up getting one of them or someone else, that player should expect to get plenty of minutes, because the Jets’ back end won’t be healthy for some time yet and none of those in their excellent pool of defensive prospects will be ready until 2020-21.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.