After earning 99 points in 2014-2015 and clinching the team’s first playoff berth since moving to Winnipeg in 2011, the Jets plummeted to just 78 points in 2015-2016. Even though they play in arguably the NHL’s toughest division, many thought Winnipeg would be back in the playoffs. However, the team slogged through a rough season and traded away their captain, Andrew Ladd.
On paper, the Jets have the talent to compete. Winger Blake Wheeler led the team with 78 points while playing all 82 games this season. Top center Mark Scheifele, just 23 years old, also performed extremely well offensively. On defense, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers are two of the best in the game and Myers is still developing after coming over from the Buffalo Sabres in the trade for Evander Kane. This top talent overshadowed a lack of depth that was evident as the year progressed.
The real bright spot for Winnipeg this season was the emergence of goalie Connor Hellebuyck. The 22 year old was clearly the best netminder on the team, posting a 2.34 goals against average and .918 save percentage in his 26 games. Ondrej Pavelec, and his $3.9 million salary, was far worse than Hellebuyck.
Pending Free Agents: Winnipeg’s top priority will be working out a long term extension with Scheifele. He will be entitled to a significant payday, but the team has been hovering near the bottom of the league in spending so they have the funds. Another restricted free agent, Jacob Trouba, is a 22 year old top four defenseman that will also be looking for big money.
Draft Picks: While the team hopes to win the draft lottery and select Auston Matthews, the odds of that happening are pretty slim. While the team could use some help on defense, an interesting scenario would be selecting Left Wing Matthew Tkachuk. Matthew is the son of former Winnipeg Captain and fan favorite Keith Tkachuk.
Free Agent Additions: While he isn’t a true free agent, the Jets just signed last year’s first round pick, Kyle Connor, to a three year deal. He was on fire as a freshman at the University of Michigan, racking up 71 points in just 38 games. He may get a shot at the pro level sooner rather than later.
Since the team traded away Ladd, there is no true captain on the roster. While some of the young players could be given the role, or maybe even Wheeler, the Jets might look to fill the leadership void from the outside. St. Louis Blues Captain David Backes may be available this offseason. He could provide instant credibility and a winning attitude to a team that needs it.