November 19, 2018

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Time for centres to step up

Jets lose Stastny to Vegas, will be relying heavily on Little, Roslovic

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSWinnipeg Jets’ Paul Stastny (25), leads the team off the ice after scoring against the Nashville Predators’ during second period NHL action during game one of their second round playoff series in Nashville, TN, Friday, April 27, 2018.</p></p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSWinnipeg Jets’ Paul Stastny (25), leads the team off the ice after scoring against the Nashville Predators’ during second period NHL action during game one of their second round playoff series in Nashville, TN, Friday, April 27, 2018.

A big trade. A swing-and-a-miss on their most coveted free agent. A new backup goalie in town. A few minor-league depth signings.

And plenty of work still to be done to get this roster ready for what they hope will be another lengthy run.

Such was life this past weekend for the Winnipeg Jets, who had a newsworthy few days that may have left some fans both perplexed and perturbed.

With the dust now settling, let’s take a look at what went down and what it means going forward by addressing six key questions.

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A big trade. A swing-and-a-miss on their most coveted free agent. A new backup goalie in town. A few minor-league depth signings.

And plenty of work still to be done to get this roster ready for what they hope will be another lengthy run.

Such was life this past weekend for the Winnipeg Jets, who had a newsworthy few days that may have left some fans both perplexed and perturbed.

With the dust now settling, let’s take a look at what went down and what it means going forward by addressing six key questions.

Why did Stastny spurn the Jets?

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff may have said it best when he met the media Sunday afternoon, clearly disappointed at not being able to strike a deal with the veteran centre.

"Hockey is a great game but can be an awful business sometimes. That’s a saying that’s out there and maybe a little more explicit when it’s behind closed doors about what the business can be like. That’s the tough realities," said Cheveldayoff.

In the end, it boiled down to the almighty dollar. Stastny signed a three-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights, with an average annual value (AAV) of $6.5 million.

He was a player the Jets desperately wanted back, after obtaining him at the trade deadline last February in exchange for a first-round draft pick and prospect Erik Foley. After all, Stastny was a great fit between young stars Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. He had four goals and nine assists in 19 regular-season games and was a major contributor in the Jets’ run to the Western Conference final, firing six goals and adding nine assists in 19 post-season games.

And Stastny, by all accounts, wanted to return. But in the end, the numbers just didn’t add up for an organization facing a salary cap crunch.

"While we offered the same term, obviously it wasn’t the same money," said Cheveldayoff. "With what transpired over here in the last couple days, we put our best foot forward — and maybe even six inches beyond even our best foot — to make sure that we would have no regrets if it wasn’t good enough. Because at the end of the day, it was just a reality of what we could or couldn’t do given the good problems that we have in front of us in keeping this solid team together."

What was the point of the Mason and Armia move?

There’s no question Saturday’s move was made, at least in part, to give the Jets a better shot at Stastny. Cheveldayoff sent Mason, the Jets’ veteran back-up netminder, and Armia, a regular bottom-six forward, to the Montreal Canadiens, along with a 7th-round pick in the 2019 draft and a 4th-round pick in the 2020 draft, in exchange for AHL depth defenceman Simon Bourque.

The big prize was clearing more than $5 million off their books.

But here’s the thing: that’s a trade Cheveldayoff likely would have made even if Stastny wasn’t in the picture. The Jets desperately needed to clear cap space regardless, and Cheveldayoff admitted Sunday more slashing would have been required had Stastny signed.

"We were able to cross the first hurdle and try and create the ability to just speak with him when we made the move to clear some cap space. If we were fortunate enough to have gotten him, there would have been a lot more surgery that would have been needed on the roster as well," he said.

How do the Jets fill the Stastny void?

Veteran centre Bryan Little, who begins a new six-year, $31.75 million contract ($5.3 million AAV) starting this season, has been a top centre within the organization his entire career but hasn’t clicked with Laine in their time together. He may get another shot.

Then there is the ultra-talented Jack Roslovic, who made big strides last season — first in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose, and then following his promotion to the Jets. He may have been their best forward in the last couple of games of the Western Conference final against Vegas.

Roslovic primarily skated on the wing last year but is an option at centre. The Jets were a solid team before Stastny joined them. There’s no reason to believe that can’t continue to be the case.

"Again, I don’t know if there were a lot of people, quite honestly, thought there was even a chance that we were going to be able to bring back Paul," said Cheveldayoff. "When the season ended, we had a great conversation. He expressed his willingness and desire to, if we could make it work, come back. When it’s all said and done, you guys are going to look at the salary cap and roster and say, ‘OK, how were they going to do this anyway?’’’

What about the new goalie?

With Mason out the door, Michael Hutchinson signing as a free agent with Florida and Jamie Phillips not retained by the organization last week, the goaltending position suddenly became quite thin behind Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck.

Enter 25-year-old Laurent Brossoit, whose NHL numbers to date don’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence.

Brossoit, from Port Alberni, B.C., went 3-7-1 in 14 games with the Edmonton Oilers last season, with a 3.24 goals against average and .883 save percentage. He also played 29 games in the AHL with Bakersfield, going 15-10-1 with 2.68 goals against average and .912 save percentage.

He signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $650,000 Sunday.

"I figured with the type of potential the team had, the way the team is looking and given the opportunity they said that I’ll get this year, it just felt like a no-brainer. It’s my goal to get more NHL experience and to do that (with) such a skilled, offensive team, it was just a no-brainer for me. I’m just looking to be a supporter of (Hellebuyck) and the rest of the team and to be a good teammate and then contribute in the games that I do play," Brossoit said Sunday in a telephone interview from Italy, where he’s currently on vacation.

Hellebuyck won’t have to spend much time getting to know his new goaltending partner — the two are already good friends and off-season training partners.

Brossoit has just 28 total games of NHL experience spread over four seasons with the Oilers, and his signing likely means Hellebuyck will be counted on heavily again next season.

"Lots of teams reached out, had numerous offers. Goalie coaches around the league love him. Very high ceiling," Brossoit’s agent, Ray Petkau, told the Free Press.

Cheveldayoff expects Brossoit to be challenged by Moose starter Eric Comrie for work behind Hellebuyck next season. Rookie Mikhail Berdin is expected to be the other goalie on the farm, coming straight out of the USHL.

"This game is all about competition. Eric has competed over the last couple of years and got experience. They’re both going to compete certainly for whatever they’re going to get at training camp," said Cheveldayoff.

Brossoit, who stands 6-3 and weighs 200 pounds, said last year was tough with the Oilers as the team got off to a terrible start, then gave starter Cam Talbot a heavy workload to try and get back into the playoff race. He was ultimately sent to the minors when Edmonton added former Jets backup Al Montoya via a January trade.

"Unfortunately I ended up getting pretty stagnant and on the sidelines. It’s hard to get a lot of traction, but I went down to Bakersfield and started playing more and getting the confidence back. I did very well down there. It’s definitely nice to have the staff of the Jets to see the potential that I have when I am in the net and when I get opportunity," said Brossoit.

IS THAT IT FOR THE SO-CALLED FREE AGENT "FRENZY"?

Winnipeg signed three other players Sunday, primarily as depth on the farm. Forwards Dennis Everberg and Seth Griffith, along with defenceman Cam Schilling, all inked one-year, two-way contracts, each worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

Schilling, 29, played in 71 games for the Manitoba Moose last season, posting 32 points (6G, 26A). Everberg, 26, played in 50 games for Omsk and Nizhnekamsk of the KHL with 16 points. He’s played 70 career NHL games for the Colorado Avalanche, scoring three goals and adding nine assists. Griffith, 25, played in 21 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season where he had three points. He also played 46 games for the AHL’s Rochester Americans, posting 41 points.

Winnipeg also swung a minor trade on Saturday, moving forward Chase De Leo to the Anaheim Ducks organization in exchange for forward Nic Kerdiles. De Leo, 22, is a California native who was picked in the 4th round by the Jets in the 2014 draft. He had 12 goals and 23 assists in 69 games with the Moose last season. De Leo was getting lost in the shuffle of a relatively deep pool of prospects at forward and appeared in just two NHL games with the Jets, both in the 2015-16 season.

Kerdiles, 24, had 15 goals and 19 assists in 49 AHL games last season with the San Diego Gulls. He also skated in two NHL games with the Ducks.

As for other potential moves, don’t hold your breath expecting anything else, certainly of the significant variety.

WHAT ELSE NEEDS TO BE DONE THIS SUMMER?

As of this moment, the Jets have 15 NHL players under contract for next season with cap hit of $51.9 million. Brossoit in goal; Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Little, Ehlers, Laine, Mathieu Perreault, Kyle Connor, Roslovic and Andrew Copp at forward; Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Dmitry Kulikov, Ben Chiarot and Joe Morrow on defence.

They have eight other players who are currently restricted free agents and need new deals. Hellebuyck in goal; Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev, Marko Dano and Nic Petan at forward; Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey and Tucker Poolman on defence.

And they have $27.6 million in available cap space to work with, which is actually a bit less when you factor in the need to leave room for performance bonuses to be paid out.

"Again, we’ve got a good group of guys here and we’ve got lots of work ahead of us on our RFAs. That’s where things pick up on July 2," Cheveldayoff said Sunday.

The Jets are also now eligible to extend Laine and offer a new deal to Wheeler, who is set to become a UFA next summer. Those contracts wouldn’t kick in until the 2019-20 season.

Cheveldayoff said work continues on getting all of the above done but wouldn’t delve into any specifics.

"You’re always kind of chipping away at various different levels of your RFA type situations," he said. "So, again, there’s lots of prognostication on how those contracts do come in. There’s term and money and all the things that come into play. You have to make some tough decisions."

 

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

 

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

 

 

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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.

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Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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