We’ve all been there before. Staring down a "to-do" list a mile long, you become so focused on the task at the top that everything else seemingly takes a back seat.
Such is the current state of affairs surrounding the Winnipeg Jets and an all-important NHL offseason.
While Barry Trotz continues to contemplate his next move, the hockey club is very much in a holding pattern when it comes to other key matters. They are going all-in when it comes to trying to lure the Manitoban back home, with additional talks that were originally scheduled for this past weekend now happening this week.
If not Trotz, then who? As Winnipeg shows plenty of patience, three other NHL clubs — Vegas (Bruce Cassidy), Philadelphia (John Tortorella) and Dallas (Pete DeBoer) — have taken down the "Help Wanted" sign over the past week. Boston and Detroit are the only others officially hunting for a new coach right now, while Florida, Edmonton and Chicago are still mulling over what to do with their interim leaders.
I’m not sure what Plan B is for the Jets if Trotz leaves them at the alter — Jim Montgomery? Scott Arniel? Pascal Vincent? Kirk Muller? — but that’s three other potential candidates off the market.
Winnipeg’s "hurry-up-and-wait" approach is understandable. Several of the pressing issues on the horizon will be impacted by who is calling the shots behind the bench, and how strong and persuasive his voice is. Still, a sense of urgency is starting to swirl.
The sooner the Jets get a resolution, the better. Yesterday would have been great. Today would be terrific.
I’m told one way or another, there’s an internal belief an answer will come before the calendar flips to July, which is not a moment too soon, considering all the other items gathering dust right now on the desk of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his staff.
What to do about Mark Scheifele?
Is the situation salvageable, or have we hit a point of no return where the only solution is a trade?
The 29-year-old Scheifele sure sounded like a guy who wanted a one-way ticket out of town at his jaw-dropping season-ending exit interview. But he also doesn’t have a lot of control. An established point-per-game player with clear defensive deficiencies, Scheifele is still under contract for two more years. His only recourse would be holding out, which would mean not getting paid. However, the Jets recognize his value might never be higher than it is right now. Quite the pickle, you could say.
Once a new coaching staff is in place — could someone such as Trotz find a way to get Scheifele to become a better two-way player? — this will immediately go straight to the front-burner.
And how about the other top centre around here?
Pierre-Luc Dubois, who turns 24 on Friday, is a restricted free agent coming off a terrific season where he established himself as both an on and off-ice leader. The Jets would love to lock him up to a long-term extension, but contract discussions have reportedly not even started. That’s going to have to change, and fast. I wouldn’t blame Dubois for wanting to see who the next coach is. Once that happens, it’s time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and get down to business.
Cheveldayoff has several RFAs who need new deals, including Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins, Evgeny Svechnikov, David Gustafsson and a handful of young players in the system. Dubois is obviously the key.
A few notable dates are fast approaching: The Jets have until July 11 to extend qualifying offers, and I would expect all will receive them (rather than be turned loose as unrestricted free agents). The players then have until July 13 to accept and July 17 to elect for arbitration (for those, like Dubois, who are eligible). Hearings will then be scheduled between July 27 and Aug. 11.
Exploring the trade market:
Winnipeg has an impressive core to build upon, with the likes of Connor Hellebuyck in net, Dubois, Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers up front, and Josh Morrissey on the blue line. But last season proved there are still plenty of flaws in the lineup, which only have become more glaring during the Stanley Cup playoffs as you watch a Central Division rival in Colorado run wild.
The trade market is one way to seek immediate help for a franchise spending to the salary-cap ceiling (up US$1 million to US$82.5 million this coming year) that still believes its window to contend is open.
Scheifele would clearly be the biggest chip, but he’s not the only one. With several young defencemen ripening on the vine with the Manitoba Moose — Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, Declan Chisholm, Johnathan Kovacevic and Leon Gawanke — Cheveldayoff would be wise to explore whether he can create an opening or two with the big club by moving a more established and more costly veteran back-end piece such as Nate Schmidt (US $5.95 million), Neal Pionk (US $5.875 million), Brenden Dillon (US $3.9 million) or Dylan DeMelo (US $3 million), then use that money to help shore up other areas.
Talk typically heats up around the NHL Draft (July 7 and 8), where picks and prospects are often thrown in to sweetened deals, so stay tuned on that front.
Free agent frenzy:
Forward Paul Stastny and backup goalie Eric Comrie were significant contributors to the cause last year. Both would be free to sign with any other team starting on July 13 if the Jets can’t get their names on new deals. Stastny is already on record as saying he wants to see the direction Winnipeg takes, which would surely include the identity of the new head coach.
If one or both of Stastny and Comrie don’t come back, that’s another hole or two that will need to be filled.
Obviously, having a future Hall of Famer like Trotz on board will help the cause, including attracting UFAs on the open market who are looking for a good fit and might cherish playing for an organization that appears to be "all-in."
Filling up the prospect pool:
The Jets now owns a pair of first-round picks at the upcoming NHL Draft in Montreal. They have their own selection at No. 14 overall and the 30th spot from the New York Rangers as part of the Andrew Copp trade.
Don’t expect anyone to step in and make an immediate difference, but this is still a crucial step for a club that preaches the draft-and-develop mantra. The organization held several days of scouting meetings last week to discuss the strategy going forward.
And a few other things…
There’s also rookie development camp next month, the return of the Young Stars tournament in British Columbia in early September and the start of training camp later that month. Before you know it, Oct. 11 will have arrived and a shiny new 82-game season will be upon us. (The 2022-23 schedule is expected to be released the first week of July).
It might feel like everyone around here is waiting for #TrotzWatch to come to an end, but for a Jets club coming off a disappointing year in which they missed the playoffs for the seventh time in 11 years and failed to sell out a single game, the hard work is only just beginning.
Summertime — and the livin’ is going to be busy.
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.