The Winnipeg Jets are buyers. Or maybe stayers?
Either of those statements are music to the ears of fans of the playoff-bound club which currently sits second in the murderous Central Division and third in the Western Conference. With one of the most productive top-six forward units in the West, depth on the blue line, and the emergence of Conor Hellebuyck as a game-stealer in the crease, this squad has as legit a shot as it’s ever had to make a deep run.
But the same can be said for more than half of the Central Division this season as the Predators, Blues, Stars, and even the Wild are built to go deep in the postseason this year — and that’s before we throw the West-leading Golden Knights and three-headed California monster, including the Sharks, Kings, and Ducks, into the mix.
Though one of the most complete teams in the league, the Jets still have wants and needs with less than two weeks to go before the deadline. What are they and where do Winnipeg’s potential options lay? Lets take a look.
Wants and needs: It’s been widely reported that a top-six forward is at the top of the Jets’ priority list. General Manager Tim Cheveldayoff made it known that he would settle for top-nine guy if need be, but adding some grit and scoring to play alongside Mark Scheifele or Bryan Little on the team’s first two lines is what he truly covets. To a lesser extent, all indications suggest that the Jets will be in the market for one of the many right-handed defensemen available as it looks to add depth on that side behind minute-eating blueliners Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien. This is much farther down the ‘needs’ list, though, and more of a ‘would be nice to add.’
What they can offer: The Jets have a nice haul of young, controllable talent both on the big club and with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL. Though it won’t sell the farm to acquire a forward or depth D-man, Winnipeg will likely have to part ways with a potential future piece to bolster the roster now. Brendan Lemieux and Marko Dano are both said to be available up front, while Sami Niku is having a hell of a year in the ‘A’ and is drawing the attention of more than a few clubs.
Potential fits: Several potentially impactful, top-six wingers are available including left-handed shooters Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Mike Hoffman, Evander Kane, Michael Grabner, Alex Galchenyuk, and Patrick Maroon. Thomas Vanek and Radim Vrbata pose a couple right-handed options available on the wing, while Derick Brassard, Mark Letestu, and Thomas Plekanec also boast intrigue for Winnipeg down the middle should they choose to go that route.
Best options: On the lower end, a guy like Letestu would come cheap and provides depth down the middle, the same can be said on the right wing for Vrbata and Vanek who, at any given time, can get hot and have the skill to play alongside the Jet’s top offensive players when called upon. Of the higher-end options on the left side, Hoffman or Zuccarello can provide the perfect mix of grind and skill to compliment the team’s top six and, if the team is willing to burn a little hole in its wallet, Rick Nash would look damn fine in a Jets uni (if he would report there, of course).
The Jets have the assets to make a full-out run for it this year, but also have a special blend of youth, skill, and chemistry which the team’s brass will be reluctant to tinker with. Look for The Peg to lean towards making a couple depth moves if the cost for a big-time winger is too egregious, which is a distinct possibility.