Winnipeg Jets fans enjoyed home playoff games for the first time since returning to Winnipeg in 2011. Despite a first-round loss to the Anaheim Ducks the Jets have provided a fan base with excitement and optimism for the 2015-16 season.
Last season not only featured the playoff berth but arguably the biggest trade of the NHL season. Kevin Cheveldayoff traded a group of players featuring Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to the Buffalo Sabres. The return featured Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford, both of whom seemed to play with renewed energy in Winnipeg.
Can the Winnipeg Jets return to the Western Conference playoffs and make a deeper run? Can they be Stanley Cup competitive?
Cheveldayoff pulled of the Kane trade to the Sabres when most people knew it had to be done. Both Myers and Stafford made quick impacts and should have strong seasons for the Winnipeg Jets in 2015-16. That trade isn’t the most impressive part of the Jets standing.
The Winnipeg Jets have just over $12 million in space to the salary cap ceiling which gives some room to make additions to the roster. Left wing is a good place to spend some of that with only Andrew Ladd and Adam Lowry listed on the depth chart.
Challenging that space are a number of restricted and unrestricted free agents, led by Dustin Byfuglien and Ladd. Even if Lowry and Mark Scheifele agree to bridge deals, Cheveldayoff has some maneuvering to do. The Winnipeg Jets could look very different by the trade deadline.
The Jets should compete for the playoffs again but without many major moves Cheveldayoff seems to recognize his team is in a transitional year with the contracts up. He’s been bold before and I expect it again. The Winnipeg Jets are fortunate to have a GM not afraid to take risks. The next twelve months could define his tenure.
Much production depends on several young players stepping up and continued production from new faces. Myers and Stafford both seem ready to have strong full seasons with Winnipeg. Scheifele and Lowry both will have more expected of them. Alexander Burmistrov comes back from the KHL to add talent and depth at center. If his offensive gifts are as advertised he should not only produce but allow his line mates to score as well.
Defense appears a strength of the Winnipeg Jets with anchors Toby Enstrom, Myers and Byfuglien leading the way. All three are sound defensively while Myers and Byfuglien are massive figures with offensive gifts.
The bottom of the Winnipeg Jets defense is loaded with size. This is a big, physical unit that needs to be sound in their own zone with the lack of a game-breaking scorer. Getting consistent goaltending behind them will help that cause.
Two years ago Ondrej Pavelec seemed very replaceable but he had the stronger season last year over Michael Hutchinson in nearly an even split of starts. If Hutchinson is to take the crease over it forces Cheveldayoff’s hand as Hutchinson is in the last year of his deal before restricted free agency. Pavelec has this year and one more at $3.9 million.
Two of the best prospect in the Winnipeg Jets system came from the Sabres with Myers and Stafford. Joel Armia and Brenden Lemieux both still need time to develop. Armia is closer but the depth at right-wing will keep him off the big club unless he can play the left side.
Nikolaj Ehlers posted back-to-back 100 point seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL and could come up as early as this season depending on how the contracts work out. Ehlers could be the go-to scorer the Winnipeg Jets need, though not for another year or two.
The goaltending prospects need and will have time to develop. Hutchinson will fight for the starting job, which if he wins the Winnipeg Jets will need a veteran backup. Whether that’s Pavelec at a reduced contract or another option depends on who wins the crease. It will be a much discussed position battle as it was last year with no real developed options other than an emergency basis for injuries.
Overall what the Winnipeg Jets lack in top-end talent is made up for in depth. The Jets are on the rise both at the NHL level and pipeline with their draft classes and acquisitions. With the contracts expiring Cheveldayoff will be busy negotiating deals and trades to shape the Jets. Calgary, Los Angeles and Dallas are all expected to play better, the Stars most recently signing Johnny Oduya. All three teams will push the Jets for their playoff spot.
I believe Cheveldayoff recognizes that. When NHL teams have to get down to the salary cap before opening night, Cheveldayoff is exactly the kind of general manager to take advantage like Garth Snow did last year. He has the cap space to do it. I don’t expect the current roster and the one the Winnipeg Jets start the season with to be the same.
More from Puck Prose
- Detroit Red Wings 2023 Rookie Camp Has Plenty of Ups and Downs
- This Columbus Blue Jackets rookie doesn’t want to be forgotten
- 2 trades the Boston Bruins must make to secure the Stanley Cup
- 3 reasons the Avalanche won’t win the Stanley Cup in 2024
- This is a big year for Alex Turcotte and the Los Angeles Kings