It has been more than two months since Winnipeg Jets fans have seen their team play and now general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff's season is finally here. There's nothing like a good old National Hockey League expansion draft to kick things off.
Things will happen quickly as he looks to minimize the loss of one of his players to the Vegas Golden Knights. There's also reason to hope the Jets might be involved in acquiring a useful player or two from 29 NHL opponents — by Vegas picking them from a team’s roster and trading them to the Jets.
First, let’s look at what Cheveldayoff might do with his current roster.
Expansion draft rules give the GM two options: protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie, or eight skaters and a goalie.
If the Jets go the eight-skater route, the four defencemen will be Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers.
The forward group is helped because players with two years or less of professional experience are exempt from the draft. This leaves three locks to be protected — Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Bryan Little. The biggest argument among fans has been whether the Jets should keep Mathieu Perreault or Adam Lowry as the fourth forward.
In a Twitter poll I conducted on this question, the results were basically a split — 53 per cent for Perreault and 47 per cent for Lowry. The analytics community is strongly behind Perreault.
I'm not married to advanced statistics, but I always take them into serious consideration. In this case, Perreault's stats heartily back up what I see on the ice.
He’s a good top-six forward that had a tough start last season, both with "puck-luck" and injuries. He came storming back as a relentless forechecker who’s extremely smart with the puck.
With 13 goals, 32 assists and 45 points in 65 games, he provided good, top-end value. He makes his linemates better, wherever he plays on the roster. The one legitimate knock on him is that he often gets hurt and rarely plays a full season.
Lowry had a good year, as well. His 15 goals, 14 assists and 29 points in 82 games were a career best. The big centreman was the beneficiary of significant time on the power play and he produced decent numbers. His third-line duties had him facing tough competition and he performed admirably in a defensive role, as well as killing penalties.
Both players are aggressive and fearless in their own way. Perreault accomplishes this at the high speed that a top-six spot demands — Lowry at the slower pace of working the boards well and punishing an opponent when he can.
Two good players, but they aren’t equals. For me, it comes down to this: It's much easier to replace a good bottom-six forward than it is to acquire a good top six one.
One can counter with the age difference (five years) and the injury concerns, but that isn't enough to close the gap. Perreault shows no signs of slowing down.
While it looks like Lowry is head coach Paul Maurice's most-favoured player, Perreault is Cheveldayoff's prized unrestricted free-agent signing (and re-signing). Maurice surely remembers how the loss of Michael Frolik adversely affected him and his club, so it’s likely they’ll do everything they can to keep them both.
I'm all in on that, at the right price.
This decision could be avoided by Enstrom waiving the no-movement clause in his contract, allowing the Jets to leave him unprotected. Cheveldayoff would then go 7-3-1, solving the problem.
I have a great deal of respect for Enstrom and if he was asked and declines to waive I'd fully understand.
Why would a player spend his whole NHL career with an organization (turning 33 years old in November) suddenly take a chance that he might be selected by Vegas, turning his life upside down?
I doubt the players association would be happy with any member giving up a right that it bargained hard to get in the collective agreement. Enstrom must surely appreciate what his union brothers have done for him.
At the same time, I’d only be mildly surprised if he waived — he’s a true team player. But knowing that the Jets would be better off with him doing that doesn’t overrule his family, friends and personal well-being.
Vegas might want him to help hit their salary-cap floor, then trade him before his contract expires at the end of next season. We've seen some strange player evaluations by GMs over the years, so one never knows.
The Jets will protect Connor Hellebuyck as their goalie but this draft offers opportunity to both challenge him and give the Jets a chance to win every night.
As Winnipeg is not known as a preferred destination for unrestricted free agents, they should be taking a serious run at New York Rangers backup goalie Antti Raanta and Washington Capitals backup Philipp Grubauer, via Vegas. At this point, nobody knows what unprotected players will be available, but it would be wise to take a chance on someone who might become the next Cam Talbot.
I'm dismissing the issue of which depth forwards should be left unprotected if Jets go 7-3-1, as that's a full column on its own.
There’ll be a few more days of hand-wringing among fans of all teams, but at least the answers are coming soon.
It’s Cheveldayoff’s time to take the ball and run with it. With a few good moves this summer he could make the Jets a contender next season. There’s no time like the present to get things moving.
Now that he has the ball, let’s hope he doesn’t punt it away.
Chosen ninth overall by the NHL's St. Louis Blues and first overall by the WHA's Houston Aeros in 1977, Scott Campbell has now been drafted by the Winnipeg Free Press to play a new style of game.