Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Addition By Subtraction?

As much as I spoke about the pain of losing an impact player like Tavares yesterday, the Winnipeg Jets also went through a punch-to-the-gut on Sunday when it was announced that Paul Stastny had signed with the Vegas Golden Knights, the team that ended Winnipeg's playoff run this season, for three years and $19.5 million over that time. Stastny seemed to be a great fit between Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers on the Jets' second line. He had friends in Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien on the team who convinced him that Winnipeg was the place to be when he was traded at the trade deadline. In the end, however, Stastny took more money on a longer term from Vegas, and will now suit up in the Pacific Division next season.

The Jets needed to make cap room in order to sign Stastny, and they did that by somehow convincing Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens to take Joel Armia and Steve Mason off the Jets' hands which opened up about $5.5 million dollars in room. The Jets used what little space they had combined with the new space after the trade to pitch Stastny what sounded like two years and $6 million per season, but the 32 year-old went with term and an additional $750,000 in income tax-free money in Nevada instead of staying with the Jets where he arguably had one of his most productive quarters of any season in the NHL. When it comes to earning potential over a short career, I understand why Paul Stastny went with the money, but I'm not certain he'll see the Stanley Cup Final with Vegas over the next three seasons.

The Jets will now turn their sights on re-signing a number of key restricted free agents, and opening up that cap room could be a blessing in disguise for this team. Without the likes of Jacob Trouba, Connor Hellebuyck, Josh Morrissey, and Adam Lowry, this Jets team wouldn't have been on pace to be a 100-point team last season. Adding Stastny at the trade deadline made them better, but they were already a good team playing in a tough division and conference. Without the three players above, they wouldn't have been where they were nor would they have challenged Nashville for first-overall down the stretch.

Of the three restricted free agents listed above, Trouba and Hellebuyck are going to get paid. There's no doubt about that. Trouba accepted his role alongside Josh Morrissey and became one of the premier shutdown tandems in the NHL. He was often deployed against the opposition's best players night-in and night-out, and he and Morrissey were exceptional as one of the youngest shutdown pairings in the NHL. Asking a player of Trouba's calibre to dial down the offensive side of his game and play harder minutes against better opponents is a big ask, and Trouba succeeded with flying colours. With the extra cap space created by the Stastny vacancy, the Jets could sweeten the deal for Trouba a little as a way to show their appreciation.

The same goes for Hellebuyck as he certainly showed that his off-season commitment to becoming a better goaltender was well worth both the time and the effort. Hellebuyck broke the NHL record for wins by an American-born goalie, broke the Jets' record for wins in a season, and carried this team to the second-overall standing in the NHL, one point shy of the first-overall mark. Hellebuyck looked like the NHL goalie that had been predicted when he was drafted, and he certainly put the numbers up to prove it. While there is always the possibility of a regression, I doubt we'll see a major step back. He may not win 44 games next season, but 35 wins is completely achievable, and he should be paid as such. Barring injuries, Hellebuyk should be the de facto number-one goalie in Winnipeg for the foreseeable future. It's time to pay him as such.

Josh Morrissey was one of the premiere offensive defencemen in the WHL with Prince Albert, and his transformation into a shutdown defenceman has been extraordinary. As stated above with Trouba, asking Morrissey to forget about racking up points is a big ask, but it's another to ask him to stop the best players in the NHL from scoring at age 23. All Morrissey did was step his game up and become the Jets' best defensive player, and paired with Trouba to become as one of the youngest shutdown pairings in the NHL. With both Trouba and Morrissey potentially signed long-term, the Jets should have one of the best defensive pairings for years to come.

Adam Lowry is a good foot soldier for the Jets, and he deserves a little of that Stastny pie. Lowry looks a lot like Jordan Staal did with the Penguins - tall, rangy, forechecks like a demon, causes turnovers, and will notch you a dozen goals and 30 points per season. He may not have the talent that Staal does, but he makes up for it with the effort and doggedness in his pursuit of the puck and shutting down opposing forwards. Lowry won't earn the seven-year, double-digit million dollar contract, but he's shown he deserves more than his previous $1,125,000 contract. I would say $1.75 million per season over three years would be a nice increase for the checking forward, and he can continue to be a major part of the Jets' successes.

There will also be slight increases for both Brandon Tanev and Marko Dano up front while Tucker Poolman should see a little bump after last season's introduction to the NHL. These players will fill roles like they did last season, although Brandon Tanev's role could be expanded after he should some incredible hands and wheels in the playoffs. Needless to say, these players will be needed with the likes of Armia, Stastny, and Enstrom not returning, so there's a good future on the horizon with these young players.

Losing Stastny isn't fun when you consider how important he was in the playoffs for the Jets. He really energised the second line by going to the front of the net and getting sticks on pucks sent his way from Ehlers and Laine while completely disrupting the goaltenders of whom he stood in front. However, the long-term ramifications of keeping Stastny would have meant that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff probably would have lost some key young players that helped Winnipeg become the team they are, and I'm not sure that's something I'd want to sacrifice when it comes to Winnipeg being a Stanley Cup threat for years to come. While we'll miss Stastny, we'd certainly see bigger holes if one of Trouba, Morrissey, Hellebuyck, Mathieu Perreault, or a combination of these players had to be moved due to cap constraints.

As it stands now, the majority of the 113-point Winnipeg Jets will be back for a second chance at glory, and I'm quite happy that they'll get another shot at it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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