Winnipeg Jets veteran defenceman Toby Enstrom finds himself defenceless — again.
This time, he’s not playing the puck in the corner, about to be clobbered from behind — face-first into the boards — by Pittsburgh Penguins enforcer Tom Sestito. (The ensuing concussion and a knee surgery to repair damage unrelated to the vicious check in early March ended the Swedish blue-liner’s disappointing 2016-17 campaign.)
This time, the 32-year-old, left-hand shot finds himself outside the shield of protection the Jets have offered most of their key contributors, on the eve of the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft.
Saturday, it was revealed Enstrom had agreed to waive his no-movement clause, allowing the Jets to go the route of protecting seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie.
The Jets’ protected list, released Sunday morning, includes No.1-centre Mark Scheifele, right-winger and captain Blake Wheeler, centres Bryan Little, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp, and wingers Mathieu Perreault and Joel Armia; blue-liners Dustin Byfuglien — who has a no movement clause — Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers; and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
Winnipeg regulars left available are forwards Marko Dano, Shawn Matthias and unrestricted free agent (UFA) Chris Thorburn, defencemen Mark Stuart, Ben Chiarot, and UFA Paul Postma and goalie Michael Hutchinson.
Any one of them, the Jets can live without.
But Winnipeg is rolling the dice big-time, making Enstrom — diminutive in stature but a central figure on the club’s Top Four — available to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who will nab one player from each of the existing 30 NHL teams this week.
It’s believed Vegas general manager George McPhee already has deals in place with Columbus, Anaheim and Chicago about which players he’ll pluck from those teams.
As of Sunday, however, the Jets had no side deal in place with the Golden Knights to steer clear of Enstrom and the one year he has left on a contract that carries a $5.75 million average annual value.
The Knights should find Enstrom, even in the twilight of his career, an attractive target. An experienced, capable, puck-moving defender to play in its top four is difficult to find and Enstrom fits the bill.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff isn’t commenting until after Vegas has released its selections, the Jets said Sunday afternoon.
Had Enstrom stuck to his NMC there were no assurances the Jets could protect all of Myers, Lowry, Perreault, Armia or Copp, without striking a side deal with the Golden Knights.
But he took one for the team, despite wanting to remain in Winnipeg.
"I can confirm that Enstrom has waived his no-move as a favour to the Jets organization. Tobias has played his entire career in the organization and has always been treated with the best respect," his agent, Kalle Bodén, confirmed Saturday to the Free Press. "He has warm feelings for the city and the Jets organization and wanted to help them out in a tricky situation.
"Enstrom is positive the Jets has a bright future and he wants to be a part of that. Therefore he is 100 per cent clear that he wants to stay."
There’s no guarantee of that, now, unless Cheveldayoff and McPhee are still cooking up something.
Life without Enstrom would force Cheveldayoff to be aggressive in trade talks or free agency to fill the hole on the blue line, at least in the short term, and could expedite Tucker Poolman’s introduction to the NHL.
All first- and second-year players, as well as unsigned draft choices, cannot be scooped up by the Golden Knights, so the Jets didn’t need to protect forwards Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nic Petan, Jack Roslovic and Kyle Connor, or defenceman Josh Morrissey and goalie Eric Comrie.
The players selected by the Golden Knights will be revealed during the 2017 NHL Awards Wednesday night in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights begin play this fall as the 15th team in the Western Conference and eighth in the Pacific Division.
Undoubtedly, there’ll be a few sleepless nights ahead for Enstrom and his family, who have already endured a difficult year. In 60 games last season, Enstrom recorded just 14 points, the fewest of his 10-year career with the Jets-Atlanta Thrashers franchise.
He missed 22 games to injuries and a leave of absence from the team to tend to a family matter in Sweden.
In early April, Enstrom told reporters he feels this is where he belongs.
"You know, I’ve been in this franchise for 10 years and I’m happy here and I’m excited to see where this team is going. I said earlier this is a team I believe we should be in the playoffs, and I’m proud every night I get to put this jersey on."
Players also made available by the Jets include several members of the Manitoba Moose; forwards Quinton Howden, Scott Kosmachuk, JC Lipon, Ryan Olsen and Anthony Peluso, defenceman Brenden Kichton, Julian Melchiori and Brian Strait and UFA goalie Ondrej Pavelec, whose roller-coaster, 10-year stint with Winnipeg/Atlanta has finally come to an end.