Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/6/2015 (2189 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Take a quick glance at the Winnipeg Jets organizational depth chart — from big-league club right down to the last late-round draft picks — and a couple of common themes emerge:
1. The prospect pool, as has been well documented over the last year or so, is stocked with some intriguing pieces.
2. There are some big-time, gaping vacancies with the parent squad, particularly on the right wing.
And so, as we begin the second installment of our fourth annual Jets At The Draft series that examines the team’s depth at five positions — centre, right wing, left wing, defence and goal — what the squad has along the right flank, or might not soon have, has to be of a major concern leading up to next week’s talent selection in Florida and the opening of free agency four days later.
Michael Frolik, Drew Stafford, Lee Stempniak and Matt Halischuk — all versatile enough to play both sides, but predominantly right-wingers — are unrestricted free agents who will have the green light to sign with the highest bidder in the next week or so.
A position that features only one constant in Blake Wheeler may be about to undergo another massive makeover if those vets exit, stage right. Yet, given the revolving door at the position over the last few years, that moves the news meter about as much as "man bites dog."
Understandably, the acquisition of Stafford and Stempniak this winter came with the understanding they were brought on board for a playoff push and may not be in Jets’ colours for long, though the Jets do have an interest in keeping both. But the loss of Frolik, who has been such an important, durable and versatile cog over the past couple of winters, would sting more than 1,000 paper cuts. And it seems almost a given he’s gone now, what with negotiations on a new deal seemingly stagnant ever since the 27-year-old and the team avoided arbitration last summer with a one-year deal worth $3.3 million.
Both Frolik and Stafford, who earned $4 million last year, would want a jump in money and considerable term to return and that’s where things could get sticky for the Jets. They do have cap room — over $21 million — but with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien entering the last year of their deals and Adam Lowry, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba all nearing the end of their entry-level contracts, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff must leave some room in the budget for future deals.
There has also been the suggestion 2014 first-round pick Nik Ehlers might be ready for prime time this fall and could flip sides and move to right wing somewhere in the Jets top six, perhaps flanking Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd.
In any case, change at right wing is hardly new for this franchise. Remember, there have also been those nights over the past couple of winters when the Jets have moved man-mountain Dustin Byfuglien up front from defence, and watched him play the wrecking ball with some touch around the net. That’s always been the Jets safety net, but it’s clear the big man prefers to do his thing from the blue-line.
But consider that since the tail end of the 2013 lockout-shortened season the Jets lineup has featured Wheeler, Frolik, Stempniak, Halischuk, Byfuglien, Chris Thorburn and Anthony Peluso — who inked a new deal this week — on the right side, along with two converted centres in Mike Santorelli and Kyle Wellwood, along with Antti Miettinen and Devin Setoguchi.
So what’s different now? The flexibility of Ehlers and a right-wing prospect stable that includes Joel Armia, Scott Kosmachuk and Jimmy Lodge means the answer could come from within the organization. If it isn’t found in-house immediately, the Jets may have to unearth this summer’s version of Mathieu Perreault in free agency or make a deal to fill those holes atop the depth chart.
(This is the second in a series. Monday: Part 3 — Left Wing. See centres here.)
— Blake Wheeler: Led the Jets in goals for the third consecutive season, found consistency in his game and became much more of a 200-foot player. Turns 29 in August and there is still a sense he’s got another gear. Potted six game winners and chipped in with four short-handed markers.
Wheeler FYI: Age: 28. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 79; G:26; A: 35; Pts: 61.
Contract: Four years remaining with an annual salary of $5.8 million.
— Michael Frolik: It’s not about the goals and assists for Frolik, it’s that he was used in so many situations and made his linemates better in the process. Already has 512 games under his belt and just turned 27 in February.
Frolik FYI: Age: 27. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 82; G: 19; A: 23; Pts. 42.
Contract: Unrestricted free agent; earned $3.3 million last season.
— Drew Stafford: Gave the Jets some offensive pop after coming over in the blockbuster trade with Buffalo and seemed to have his passion for the game ignited again. His possession numbers were mediocre, however, and the inconsistent tag seemed to follow him from the Sabres. Contract talks are said to be still ongoing.
Stafford FYI: Age: 29. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 56; G: 18; A: 25; Pts: 43.
Contract: Unrestricted free agent; earned $4 million this past year.
— Lee Stempniak: The Jets chased him last summer in free agency before he settled on the Rangers and then sent Carl Klingberg to New York for his rights in March. He’s a useful bottom six winger who has shown a scoring touch with average ice time (12 minutes and 43 seconds last year).
Stempniak FYI: Age: 32. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 71; G: 15; A: 13; Pts: 28.
Contract: Unrestricted free agent; salary was $900,000 last season.
— Matt Halischuk: Constantly referred to as a "pro" by Paul Maurice, a tag that means he doesn’t moan when scratched from the lineup, works his tail off in practice and serves up the same effort every night. His isn’t the kind of game that pulls fans out of their seats, but "Hustle-chuk" has 250 NHL games under his belt by simply busting his hump.
Halischuk FYI: Age: 27. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 47; G: 3; A: 5; Pts: 8.
Contract: Unrestricted free agent; salary was $725,000 in 2014-15.
– Chris Thorburn: Can throw ’em a bit and play a physical game. A fourth-liner who chipped in seven goals last year and has the trust of the coach and the respect of his teammates.
Thorburn FYI: Age: 32. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 81; G: 7; A: 7; Pts: 14.
Contract: Two years left at $1.2 million.
— Anthony Peluso: His best skill is showcased when he’s actually not wearing his gloves. He’s the bodyguard type in a league that is seeing less and less of them. His ice-time and numbers actually dropped this year, but that didn’t stop him from landing a new deal — with a raise — this week.
Peluso FYI: Age: 26. 2014-15 numbers: GP: 49; G: 1; A: 1; Pts: 2.
Contract: Two years left at $675,000.
TOP RIGHT WING PROSPECT
-Joel Armia: Sometimes forgotten as part of the blockbuster deal with Buffalo this winter, Armia was drafted by the Sabres 16th overall in 2011... Last season was just his second in North America after playing in the Finnish elite league... Big, but still adding to his 6-3, 187-pound frame... Good shot, skates well, but injuries limited him to 21 games (two goals, six assists) with St. John’s after the trade... The Jets like that there are many layers to his game and that potential means he won’t necessarily get locked into one role and could move up and down the lineup.
— Scott Kosmachuk: Juicy numbers in junior, including 49 goals and 101 points in his final year, but a textbook first year as a pro with the IceCaps. Took a big step in the second half of the year in the AHL and finished with 14 goals and 28 points in 70 games.
— J.C. Lipon: What you see is what you get with Lipon — gritty, leadership type who cranks up the energy level every night. Entering his third year as a pro, likely with the Moose, and will be looked upon to fine-tune his game to potentially be a bottom-six shift disturber at the NHL level.
— Austen Brassard: A fifth-round pick in 2011, Brassard has spun his wheels in the AHL. He’s big and strong, but the organization is waiting for him to take that next step as a pro.
IN THE SYSTEM (draft picks or players under NHL deals)
— Jimmy Lodge: Will open 2015-16 season with the Moose after signing a three-year deal with the Jets in March. Flashed his good offensive instincts with 63 points in 58 OHL games with Saginaw and Mississauga before joining St. John’s at the end of the season.
— Axel Blomqvist: A 6-6, 212-pound undrafted project for the Jets. Still needs to fill out. The Jets like his skating ability and his hands and if he can continue to develop could morph into an intriguing pro prospect.
— Tomas Kubalik: The Jets still own the rights to the Czech, who came over from Columbus in a deal for Spencer Machacek, but he’s not in their plans.
— Patrick Holland: Was part of the Petr Budaj deal for Eric Tangradi but, like Kubalik, will not be part of the organization going forward