Based on their opening day roster and their lack of activity in the off-season, many people had the Winnipeg Jets as a longshot to make the playoffs. As of today, they are knocking on the door of the top 8 in the Eastern Conference as they are currently tied with Ottawa and Florida with 65 points. The only thing that's keeping them from leapfrogging those teams is the fact that they have played more games. The fans in Winnipeg are happy enough to have the NHL back in Manitoba and I can only imagine how ecstatic they will be if the Jets make the playoffs. They have the luxury of playing in the Southeast Division so it is possible, but is there anything that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can do to give his team a boost and give the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise their second playoff appearance?
It is really tough to say the moment because, much to everyone's surprise, Winnipeg is a good team and is actually superior at controlling possession when the score is close than their Southeast peers. This is a strange team because they play much better at home than they do on the road. They control roughly 52% of the Fenwick close events at home compared to only 48% when they play away from the MTS Centre. They are also at a disadvantage when it comes to games in hand as both Washington and Florida have played at least three fewer games than them. Cheveldayoff is also a first-year GM, so it's hard to figure out what he will do because we do not know his spending habits or if he has a certain budget like a lot of GMs do.
Needless to say, Winnipeg has holes to fill but with most of their top young players already on the roster and not much to give in terms of prospects, I don't think they will make too much noise over the next week. Still, it's worth taking a look at what needs they could address when gearing up for a playoff push. We will do that after the jump.
Cheveldayoff really has not done much in terms of transactions this year as most of his moves have been either waiver claims or trades involving lower-end prospects.
Claimed Ben Maxwell off waivers
Maxwell was actually acquired last season in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens involving Brent Sopel. He was signed by the Ducks this off-season and waived after six games. Jets decided that they wanted him back and he is now a member of their AHL affiliate in St. John's. He has only played four games with the Jets but he has provided good depth for the Ice Dogs.
Claimed Antti Miettinen off waivers
The Tampa Bay Lightning signed him to a two-year deal while he was playing in Europe, but he needed to pass through waivers before being able to join the team. The Jets snatched him off the waiver wire hoping to gain some scoring depth but it hasn't quite worked out. He got a 27 game audition with the Jets and still hasn't scored a goal and had only 34 shots on net in those games. That's with the Jets giving him third line minutes on most nights. He has found himself in the press-box in more recent games.
Traded Akim Aliu to Calgary for John Negrin
Basically a swap of AHL players. Aliu was involved in the Dustin Byfugilien trade but he spent more time in the ECHL than with St. John's this season and was traded for a player who had one point in 26 games with the Abbotsford Heat. Not much to write about here, folks.
Traded Riley Holzapfel to Anaheim for Maxime Macenauer
Macenauer was being used in a fourth line/depth role for the Ducks this season but after accumulating only 4 points in 29 games, he was sent down to Syracuse. Meanwhile, Holzapfel has been playing mostly in a third line role in the AHL and has done well during then. He's actually picked it up ever since being traded to Syracuse and has six points in three games. If anything, both of these players will be call-ups at some point in their careers but I don't think we're looking at any future full-time NHL-ers.
The Jets have a lot of money coming off the books after this year, and it shows when we look at their cap situation for the upcoming off-season.
Top 3 Forwards: Ladd, Antropov, ??? - $8,462,500
Middle 6 Forwards: Wheeler, Little, Miettinen, Burmistrov, ???, ??? - $7,784,626
Top 4 Defensemen: Byfuglien, Hainsey, Enstrom, ??? - $13,450,000
Bottom 9 Players: Thorburn, Bogosian, Stuart, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? - $5,066,667
Goaltenders: ???, ???
$34,943,793 in 12 players (7 forwards, 5 defensemen)
UFA: Slater, Glass, Wellwood, Stapleton, Oduya, Jones, Flood, Mason
RFA: Kane, Fehr, Pavelec
The Jets have plenty of cap space to spend in terms of cap room and are going to need to spend some money to fill in those potentially vacant roster spots. That said, they can probably get closer to the floor by signing Evander Kane to a reasonable contract. Ondrej Pavelec is also going to be kept around but at not too high of a cost. Winnipeg has plenty of young forwards in their arsenal for the next year, which is great news for the future of their team but there's still going to be a few roster spots that need to be filled, mostly in the bottom-six. They shouldn't be too hard to replace, though.
If Winnipeg were "sellers" this deadline, they have quite a few guys that other teams could want. Oduya would fetch a decent return, Wellwood is giving the Jets a ton of production for what they are paying him and a playoff team would love him in a depth role. The Jets aren't going to be selling this deadline, though so I don't think either of those two will be traded. Although, I wouldn't rule out some of their depth players being traded even though their return will be very low. Winnipeg has a ton of money invested in their blue-line and it's hard to imagine that they will keep Randy Jones or Mark Flood around unless they want the latter for their AHL affiliate.
As I mentioned earlier, the Jets have some holes on their roster but it doesn't appear that they need to make a big trade right now.
Ladd - Little - Wheeler
Kane - Burmistrov - Wellwood
Glass - Slater - Thorburn
Stapleton - Antropov - Fehr
Byfuglien - Enstrom
Hainsey - Jones
Stuart - Oduya
Winnipeg's top-six is full of good/great players. Everyone who is currently in their top-six is getting the puck moving in the right direction and Ladd-Little-Wheeler has turned into a great scoring line. Wheeler is on pace to set a career high in points and Little's goal scoring has just started to pick up. It also helps that Evander Kane keeps improving with every season and he has been terrific this year at both driving possession and putting the puck in the back of the net. Alexander Burmistrov has also drastically improved since his rookie season since he is scoring more often and playing a stronger game away from the puck. Granted, he's been given easier ice time than other forwards but my point remains.
I think the overall issue with this roster is that while it's a good group of players, it's not one that strikes you as a cup favorite should they make the playoffs. I'm not sure where the Jets organizational goals are at this year but I am going to assume that they don't want to give up too many big pieces this deadline even if they have a shot at the playoffs. Acquiring some cheap secondary scoring for their bottom-six shouldn't cost them too much, though and that's really the only move I can see Cheveldayoff making. I would say that strengthening their defense is a need but they have over $14k invested in their current unit and Zach Bogosian returning should help give them more depth there. Although, it would be nice to acquire a cheap shutdown d-man who is better than Mark Stuart. It would help take some pressure off Byfuglien and Enstrom, who rank first and second in QoC respectively, so they can focus more on creating offense.
The Jets will probably stay quiet on deadline day and see what they can do with their current group of players in their push for the playoffs. Their season has been far more successful than most critics imagined and next season could be even better if the right moves are made.