As part of an ongoing series, let”s take a look at the Winnipeg Jets and how they can rebuild this off-season. What does Winnipeg need to do to make the playoffs next year? Who should their biggest targets in the off-season be?
The Winnipeg Jets saw a notable improvement from last year. From seventh in the Central to the fifth, they looked much better with Jacob Trouba on a new contract and with Patrik Laine helping lead the charge offensively. But how can they continue to improve? Let’s take it position by position.
Winnipeg Jets Forwards
Winnipeg Jets right wing Nikolaj Ehlers (27) celebrates his goal with right wing Patrik Laine (29) (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
The Winnipeg Jets are a very young team. Lucky for them, that means that many of their players, including Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers, are exempt from the expansion draft. They will have to protect many players, but their young stars are under wraps for some time to come.
The Jets will have to re-sign some of their veteran players to meet the minimum requirement for the expansion draft but signing Marko Dano to a new contract isn’t that bad.
It’s not like the Jets can’t score. 8 of their players had 30 or more points. In the NHL this season, the Jets were seventh in goals for. That’s actually really good, and the Jets were the highest team not in the playoffs. So what’s wrong?
The Jets are going to need to look to the free agent market to fulfill their biggest need: possession. The Jets were 21st in Corsi % this season. That means they’re not doing well in terms of shots on goal. The other thing is: their defense was 9th in the league. It’s not on the defense. So that means the Jets are going to have to fix their offensive possession.
How The Winnipeg Jets Can Fix This:
One way is to look at free agent Martin Hanzal. Hanzal is a center who’s played both top line and middle six minutes before, and who’s played a role in Minnesota, a playoff team this year. His Corsi, for reference, is a 50.5 this season. In both Arizona and Minnesota, when Hanzal was on the ice, Corsi rose at a good rate – 2.9% in Arizona, 5.6% in Minnesota. Hanzal could be a great second center in Winnipeg and could help drive possession.
Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
TJ Oshie, as a winger instead of a center, has the same effect on Corsi. With Washington, his Corsi numbers have actually fallen, and that’s playing with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Letting a guy like Oshie command his own line in Winnipeg would vastly help the team.
The Corsi numbers of the Jets players in the current positions where I would plug in these free agents are Joel Armia, left wing, 46.4. Adam Lowry, center, 50.4. Both Hanzal and Oshie would be noticeable improvements. Either one of these guys can help the Winnipeg Jets turn around their possession numbers. Both aren’t bad point scorers either. Hanzal had 39 points in 71 games this season. Oshie had 56 in 68, including 33 goals.
Winnipeg Jets Defense
The Jets defense is not the possession problem that the Jets offense is. The Jets were ninth in Corsi Against, which means they were limiting opponents shots on their net. While they can’t get anything going offensively, that doesn’t mean they’re hurting defensively.
But the Jets defense still can’t get anything going. Their penalty kill was 26th in the league. Bringing in someone like Oshie or Hanzal might help with that offensively, but the Jets are going to have to be better defensively as well next year. They can improve their defense in a few ways.
The Jets can also improve defensively by improving their netminding. If the Jets get a new goaltender, their defense will be better to do their job. That’s because the Winnipeg Jets were 27th in save percentage the last season. That’s not great. But it’s also not entirely the fault of the defense.
I’m not recommending that the Jets defense look elsewhere for fixing. They have a good defense already there. Just keep them healthy, and watch the team be able to play to their abilities. But if the Jets want to bring in a depth defender on the cheap or in a trade without giving up too much, that can be forgiven. Names to look out for are Yannick Weber, Dennis Seidenberg, and Roman Polak.
Winnipeg Jets Goaltending
The Jets have a goaltender problem. This season, the Jets were 27th in save percentage and 27th in goals against. Not a great mark for the Jets, who, again, had a decent defense all season. Certainly not one that would have allowed the fourth most goals in the NHL.
Their best goaltender was Connor Hellebuyck, who posted a 2.89 GAA and .907 SV%. Of forty-one goaltenders who played 30 or more games, that’s sixth worst in save percentage (thirty-sixth) and seventh worst in GAA (thirty-fifth). That’s a problem.
Now, Hellebuyck is a restricted free agent this offseason and the Jets don’t have anybody better. I’m not saying they should move on from Hellebuyck just yet, but they need a legitimate starting goaltender if they want to get to the playoffs. Everything else for them mostly works.
Therefore, the Jets should be looking heavily into Ben Bishop and Scott Darling as the big names available on this goaltender market, but also at names like Peter Budaj and Anders Nilsson as less big names if the Jets want to also pursue players like Oshie or Hanzal.
If the Jets can improve at the goaltender position, expect them to be a contender pretty soon. Their offense is already in place, their defense can support a better goaltender and make plays. This Jets team is only a few pieces away, and the biggest is a goaltender.