2020-21 record 30-23-3, 63 points
3rd in the Scotia NHL North Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Montréal
Additions: F Michael Eyssimont, F Luke Johnson, F Riley Nash, F Austin Poganski, D Brenden Dillon (acquired from WSH), D Nate Schmidt (acquired from VAN)
Subtractions: F Mason Appleton (expansion, SEA), F Marko Dano (ELH), F Trevor Lewis (signed with CGY), F Skyler McKenzie (HockeyAllsvenskan), F Mathieu Perreault (signed with MTL), F Nate Thompson (signed with PHI), D Jordie Benn (signed with MIN), D Derek Forbort (signed with BOS), D Tucker Poolman (signed with VAN), G Laurent Brossoit (signed with VGK)
Still Unsigned: D Luke Green, G Cole Kehler
Re-signed: F Andrew Copp, F Paul Stastny, F Dominic Toninato, D Jonathan Kovacevic, D Neal Pionk, D Logan Stanley, G Eric Comrie
Offseason Analysis: After sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the First Round to the surprise of, well, the Oilers themselves, the Jets were promptly swept by the Montréal Canadiens in the Second Round to the surprise of everyone that thought the Montréal vs. Winnipeg matchup would be a little more competitive.
The Jets, however, beat Edmonton by one-goal in three out of their four games in the First Round– with the latter two in comeback fashion and all three one-goal victories needing at least one overtime period (the series finale, in fact, needed three overtime periods).
Winnipeg bet the Oilers, 4-1, in Game 1, 1-0 (OT), in Game 2, 5-4 (OT) in Game 3 and, 4-3 (3OT) in Game 4, then played Montréal about a week-and-a-half after eliminating Edmonton.
The Canadiens beat the Jets, 5-3, in Game 1, 1-0, in Game 2, 5-1, in Game 3 and, 3-2 (OT), in Game 4 while Mark Scheifele sat on the sidelines for the majority of the series– serving a four-game suspension for his Game 1 charge that left Jake Evans with a concussion.
In addition to playing Connor Hellebuyck less and giving Eric Comrie more responsibility as the backup goaltender, Winnipeg could solve some of their problems by simply having a defense.
Whether or not head coach, Paul Maurice, has overextended his stay behind the bench with the Jets (he has), it’s getting closer and closer to “win-now or rebuild” time in Winnipeg.
Jets General Manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, kept most of his forwards together– signing Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny to one-year extensions worth $3.640 million and $3.750 million, respectively– while adding Riley Nash and Austin Poganski to the mix on matching one-year $750,000 contracts.
Nash reached a career-high 41 points in 76 games with the Boston Bruins in 2017-18, before signing a three-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets where his production dropped to 12 points in 78 games in his first season with the Blue Jackets in 2018-19, then 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 64 games and seven points (two goals, five assists) in 37 games last season prior to being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the deadline while injured.
The 32-year-old forward was drafted in the 1st round (21st overall) by the Oilers in 2007, and made his league debut with the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2011-12 season.
Nash is a low-risk, high-reward signing for bottom-six depth– especially if he can reach about 20 points in a full 82-game season with the Jets, but he’s not winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 2021-22 (or anytime soon, for that matter).
Copp had a breakout year last season with 15-24–39 totals in 55 games, which was good news for the Jets in the wake of trading Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois early in the 2020-21 season.
Though Copp may be a late bloomer, at 27-years-old, he is still in the midst of his prime and can only have an upward projection over the course of a regular 82-game schedule.
Dubois managed 20 points in 41 games with Winnipeg last season after scoring one goal in five games with the Blue Jackets prior to the trade.
Compared to Laine’s 12-12–24 totals in 46 games with Winnipeg and Columbus last season, the trade didn’t really spark either player in fresh change of scenery.
Roslovic, meanwhile, produced his best results– 34 points (12 goals, 22 assists)– in 48 games with the Blue Jackets, versus his 12-17–29 totals in 71 games with the Jets in 2019-20.
There shouldn’t be any distractions entering the season or disruptions during the season for Dubois to get back on track, however.
As for Stastny, the 35-year-old center is still in search of his first Stanley Cup ring after passing 1,000 career games in 2020-21.
In 1,001 career NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues, Jets, Vegas Golden Knights and Jets again, Stastny has 263-492–755 totals, including 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 56 games last season in his first year back in his second stint with Winnipeg.
He’s usually good enough for about 40 points every season, so that should help solidify the Jets’ center depth as long as he’s healthy.
Despite a plus-16 goal differential in the regular season, when it mattered most, Winnipeg couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net in the Second Round.
That’s not just something for Hellebuyck to work on by himself, but rather a defensive strategy issue in and of itself.
Luckily for the Jets, they worked the phones to acquire Brenden Dillon from the Washington Capitals and Nate Schmidt from the Vancouver Canucks in separate trades a day after one another in July.
On July 26th, Winnipeg sent a 2022 2nd round pick and a 2023 2nd round pick to Washington for Dillon and on July 27th, the Jets dealt a 2022 3rd round pick to Vancouver for Schmidt.
Dillon had a quietly productive season as a top-four defender with 2-17–19 totals in 56 games with the Capitals, while Schmidt’s production dropped from 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 59 games in 2019-20 with Vegas to 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 54 games with the Canucks.
It’s a risk, but the Jets are hoping that Schmidt can bounce back to being a 30-point scoring defender in the mix with with Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey, as well as Dillon.
Speaking of Pionk, he signed a four-year extension worth $5.875 million per season this offseason after amassing 3-29–32 totals in 54 games in 2020-21.
It seems like a fair deal all around for a productive defender that plays a leading role as a power play specialist at only 26-years-old.
Offseason Grade: B-
The Jets addressed a need (improving their defense), but weren’t able to be as aggressive in either the free agent or trade market, despite remaining a piece or two away from being able to be a Stanley Cup contender.
At the very least, Winnipeg could see forward progress in the postseason with better asset management, but the problem remains the same from year-to-year– over-reliance on Hellebuyck and an unwillingness to move on from Maurice’s system.
If Cheveldayoff isn’t getting frustrated by the same results over the years, then True North Sports & Entertainment better start putting the pressure on the Jets’ front office to succeed or face the consequences of insanity (trying the same thing and expecting different results).
They’re in better shape than other teams in the Central Division, but are they as good as the Avalanche or Golden Knights on paper if they’re able to get to the Western Conference Final and have to play one of the league’s more dominant teams?