The season is over. The exit meetings complete. The second-guessing and public hand-wringing is beginning to fade. And for members of the Winnipeg Jets, the sting of an earlier-than-expected playoff exit is probably beginning to subside.
Now the hard work really begins, the search for answers to explain what went wrong well underway. It's going to be a long, difficult summer for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff, who are faced with the painful realities of building and maintaining a Stanley Cup contender in the salary cap-era.
There's a belief that the window of opportunity was wide open for the Jets this season, perhaps more than it's going to be for quite some time. And while there's likely some truth to that, there's no reason to think the Jets won't be a perennial playoff contender for at least a few more seasons, not with a mix of quality, contributing veterans and a skilled young core.
Just take a look at the current post-season, in which all four division winners were sent packing, including the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning and the defending Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals. Simply getting to the dance might be the biggest challenge of all, because once you're there anything can truly happen.
Still, maintaining the status quo is not an option. Changes are coming. Tough decisions must be made. This off-season might be the most important one in team history. And how it all goes down should go a long way in determining how long that window can stay open.
With that in mind, it's time for another semi-regular instalment of Nobody Asked Me, But..., in which I offer up my two cents on various issues surrounding the club. Cheveldayoff has a pretty full plate right now. Here's 10 morsels to chew on:
1) Nobody asked me, but... it's time to trade Jacob Trouba. Look, it's clear he doesn't want to be here long-term, which is his right, but the Jets can't afford to allow him to walk for nothing as an unrestricted free agent next summer. Assuming Trouba doesn't shock us all by signing a lengthy extension in the next couple of months, another one-year deal should not be an option. Find a potential trading partner — I'd have Florida, Philadelphia and Detroit at the top of the list — and then negotiate the best offer you can. Obviously getting back a young blue-liner with contract certainty should be an priority, but the Jets can't afford to be too picky here.
2) Nobody asked me, but... here's what I would do with the UFAs. Find a way to keep Ben Chiarot as the Jets don't have a ton of depth on the left-side of the blue line. Brandon Tanev is gone, as the Jets won't be able to match the well-deserved raise other teams are likely to offer. Instead, re-sign UFA Par Lindholm. He impressed in limited duty and could be a cheaper replacement. Say goodbye to Tyler Myers, assuming he wants to be paid like a top-four defenceman. However, if Trouba is moved, that could open the door to revisit the Myers situation before July 1. Kevin Hayes should also be allowed to walk. He likely wants too much money, and his production here was just average.
3) Nobody asked me, but... sign Kyle Connor to a lengthy extension. And give Patrik Laine a bridge deal. By this point, I think we all know what we're getting with Connor. A seven-year deal in the range of $7 million per season seems fair. The same can't be said for Laine. A two-year bridge deal would buy both sides more time to get a bigger body of work. Laine may be a $10 million-per-year player, but I wouldn't make that investment just yet. Something in the range of $7 million to $8 million right now is appropriate.
4) Nobody asked me, but... trade Eric Comrie. There's no way the pending restricted free agent should be brought back with the Moose for a fifth season. And assuming RFA Laurent Brossoit is re-signed (and he should be), then it's time to move on from Comrie, allowing young Russian goaltender Mikhail Berdin to be given the starting reins in the AHL next season. The Jets have traded a pile of draft picks over the past two years, so here's a chance to get one back for Comrie and begin restocking the shelves.
5) Nobody asked me, but... it's time to change the leadership group: Blake Wheeler isn't going anywhere. Nor is Mark Scheifele or Dustin Byfuglien. All three are signed long-term. And yet it became clear to me this season other leaders are needed. Josh Morrissey and Adam Lowry would be at the top of my list. Whether it's adding rotating alternates, or stripping a letter off an existing player, this is a move that must be made.
6) Nobody asked me, but... a new voice is needed on the coaching staff: No, I'm not advocating for firing Paul Maurice. I still think he can work with this group and should be given another opportunity, but perhaps either adding to, or replacing, some of the supporting cast might be in order. Goalie coach Wade Flaherty and defensive coach Charlie Huddy are both good men who were original hires back in 2011 along with Claude Noel. That's a long time to remain with one team. Some fresh eyes would be welcome.
7) Nobody asked me, but... does anyone have the number for Dr. Phil? It's no secret there was plenty of acrimony within the Jets dressing room, especially when things started going south in the latter stages of the regular season. Some kind of intervention is clearly required to make sure history doesn't repeat itself. Perhaps the way this year ended will give everyone some time for soul-searching, not to mention a much-needed break from each other. A team that has fun together often succeeds together — hello, Carolina Hurricanes — and the Jets weren't a very happy group to be around this year. An attitude adjustment is key going forward.
8) Nobody asked me, but... it's time to either move Dmitry Kulikov or buy out his contract. The oft-injured defenceman is making too much money for his role, with one more year at $4.33 million. Especially with Sami Niku and Tucker Poolman waiting for an opportunity, plus trade-deadline addition Nathan Beaulieu impressing. If you don't want to buy Kulikov out, find another team to take on his contract, even if it means sending a sweetener their way, like they did last season with Steve Mason being shipped to Montreal with Joel Armia as the prize throw-in.
9) Nobody asked me, but... it's time to shake up the forward group by trading a veteran. Once Connor and Laine are signed, the Jets are going to have too many forwards making too much money. It's time to move one. Bryan Little (five more years at $5.3 million) or Mathieu Perreault (two more years at $4.1 million) would be the prime candidates. And, like Kulikov, you might need to give another club some incentive, but considering Little and Perreault were both relegated to bottom-six roles at various points this year, and aren't getting any younger, it's time. Especially with Jack Roslovic, Mason Appleton and Kristian Vesalainen on entry-level deals waiting to take on bigger roles.
10) Nobody asked me, but... are you allowed to bribe the NHL schedule-maker? It sounded like an excuse when Maurice and company blamed their schedule for the late-season struggles, but there's no doubt the Jets, along with other teams who played overseas games last season, had a tough go the rest of the way, with limited days off and plenty of travel. (Florida, Edmonton and New Jersey, the other Global Series participants, all missed the playoffs, for what it's worth). That won't be the case next season, and perhaps it will allow the Jets to better manage their time. After all, this was a team that barely practised in the second half of the season due to their busy schedule. It clearly showed.
No, nobody asked me, but we're in for one heck of an interesting off-season.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Saturday, April 27, 2019 at 11:06 AM CDT: changed rotating assistants to rotating alternates.