31 Takes: Winnipeg Jets have a tough summer ahead

There are no easy answers when you’re booted from the playoffs earlier than expected.

While the Winnipeg Jets were only the fourth seed in the West — and they only got knocked out by the fifth seed, so arguably not that big of an upset — most people probably had them going pretty deep.

The Jets don’t just have talent throughout the lineup, they have high-end talent everywhere. Scheifele, Ehlers, Wheeler, Little, Hayes, Laine, Connor, and Roslovic are all forwards most GMs would kill to get. Byfuglien, Trouba, and Morrissey are defenders who could get big minutes for any team in the league. Hellebuyck looks poised to be a top-tier goalie in the league for the next decade.

So the issue for this club, staring into the abyss of a long summer, is twofold. First, the Jets were so bad down the stretch in the regular season, and went out so meekly that there needs to be a serious inquiry into the how and why of it. You can’t just say “injuries” and leave it at that.

Second, there’s likely to be a good amount of turnover this offseason that could leave them with a lot less flexibility to stay as competitive as they were the last two seasons. Kevin Hayes is likely gone in free agency. Jacob Trouba seemingly wants out. Laine and Connor both need new contracts that could get quite expensive. Some of the guys in their core — Wheeler, Little, Perreault, Byfuglien — are going to be way past 30 next season.

They will, for sure, have about $29 million to spend next season, and apart from the Laine and Connor contracts, most of their other RFAs aren’t going to cost much. But losing Trouba only exacerbates the problem they saw with Byfuglien on the shelf for half the season: They don’t have nearly enough defensemen who can carry the puck out of the zone reliably. The potential loss of Hayes just means they have to find another forward to help them keep putting pucks in the net at a high level.

The Jets were picked by many to go on a deep playoff run. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Jets were picked by many to go on a deep playoff run. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

As noted, this is a team without a ton of answers on defense for next year. Morrissey and Byfuglien are great when healthy. Kulikov and Chiarot aren’t going to help you much. Nathan Beaulieu might provide some help on the low end. They have to replace Trouba (whose rights they seem likely to trade, but one imagines it won’t be for much in the way of immediate help) and they have a great opportunity to replace Tyler Myers (and have a decent class of UFA D to choose from if they intend to spend there). Maybe you can also find someone to take Kulikov off your hands, though I doubt it.

It’s probably deeper than just making some changes on the blue line, though. This team was putrid over the last 25 games of the regular season and had two good games out of the six it played in the postseason. Not that you should put too much weight on these kinds of things, but Winnipeg might as well have not even bothered showing up to the rink for the decisive Game 6. That’s something that kind of leans into what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately with this group: It might need a new coach.

On the one hand, the Jets missed their best defenseman for half the season and suffered a number of other key injuries throughout the year and still bounced along near the top of the Western Conference for a long time. You can say those last 25 games were the result of everyone pushing so hard to stay competitive despite the losses, that they simply ran out of gas.

But a group this talented shouldn’t be the eighth-worst team in the league by all-situations xGF% over a 25-game stretch — a period over which they continually sank, rather than simply floating below water — basically no matter what. Paul Maurice didn’t have a ton of answers when they were spinning out like that and didn’t seem to have the ability to regroup in the postseason.

On some level, this really feels like a team anyone who’s about a top-50 coach in the world could do just fine with. It’s hard to say you’ve ever seen something from Maurice’s systems or approach that a reasonably good NHL coach couldn’t have done with a wealth of talent like this on hand.

Last year’s success was driven by Hellebuyck going off for a Vezina-worthy season, and painted over a lot of the, “Shouldn’t they be better than this?” talk that previously surrounded the team. This year’s success came once again through well-above-average goaltending (eighth in all-situations save percentage) and plenty of goals from that top line, but few will remember that Hellebuyck also faced more shots than any other goaltender this season, and Winnipeg conceded the fifth-most shots overall.

Is that something swapping out some defenders and getting a full season of health from a 34-year-old crash-and-bang player alone fixes? I’m not so sure. Maurice, of course, signed a multi-year extension last September, so making a change behind the bench might not be in the cards anyway.

Getting rid of some of the dead weight on the roster is going to happen naturally, and that’s a good thing. This team has the talent to be immediately competitive next season. At least on paper. Whether it can get over some other shortcomings very much remains to be seen.

31 Takes: Playoff Edition

Boston Bruins: Very gracious of the top line to finally show up, thanks in large part to Brad Marchand. But honestly the whole team played great — any time you outshoot someone 41-24 you did a lot right — and this was always always always the way the series was going to go. Game 7 in Boston? Glue yourself to the couch Tuesday night, gang.

Calgary Flames: There’s really no excuse for this club losing the way it did. Like the Jets, the Flames barely put up a fight, and the only thing you would have said coming in was that Mike Smith would be the problem. He wasn’t. Not even close. Too many no-shows up front and on the blue line, and Bill Peters didn’t have an answer. Stop me if you’ve heard that about the Flames in the playoffs before. How do you fix it? I dunno. Anyway, I’m gonna just leave this here:

Carolina Hurricanes: Tough to beat the Caps at home, sure, but the Hurricanes got run out of the building on Saturday night. The assessment linked there that Trevor van Riemsdyk was the best player on the ice for the Hurricanes is both accurate and sad. This should never be the case for any NHL team on any given night. Too many dumb decisions — Dougie Hamilton letting up despite not having confirmation on an icing call when it was “only” 2-0 stands out here — and just an overall not-good-enough effort. The power play stinks. They gotta fix this headed back home, and they gotta do it quick.

Colorado Avalanche: Any time you get the opposing coach to tell reporters after his team is eliminated, “I can’t explain it to you,” you did a hell of a good job dictating your style. As I said the other day, it wasn’t just Nathan MacKinnon, but he was so so so good in this series and it really feels like a coming-out party for him and Mikko Rantanen simultaneously. Really excited to see if they can do it again in the next round. Seems like a good bet.

Columbus Blue Jackets: One of the things I always worry about when a lower seed sweeps a higher one is that if you’re taking five, six days off between rounds, that could give you a bit of “ring rust.” Which is why it’s smart that John Tortorella is holding a full-contact scrimmage that’s open to the public today. That kicks ass. Wish I could go.

Dallas Stars: After a rough regular season, it seems the decision to put Jamie Benn back with Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov is working out great. You don’t need a ton of secondary offense when your big guys score seven in five games. And damn they looked good on Saturday. Benn in particular looked like the guy Stars president Jim Lites said he wanted to see in the big rant.

Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne got pulled early in Game 4 and gave up five on 26 shots in Game 5. People are gonna say you can’t put the losses on him but he needs to be better. And if Game 5 was an “identity check” they might want to call Experian and freeze their credit. Just got absolutely run over.

New York Islanders: It really is a deeply weird situation that this team and fanbase all want to play the rest of the playoffs at their old rink but they’re being forced to play at the new one everybody hates. I mean, it’s weird that this was the situation at all, with the two rinks, but if even the governor is writing to the league saying, “Maybe let ‘em play where they want,” that seems weird. It’s also weird that winning a single series ties Barry Trotz for second all-time in Islanders history.

San Jose Sharks: Tomas Hertl promised there would be a Game 7 in San Jose and personally scored the shorthanded winner to do it in double freaking overtime. That’s how you get the job done. Damn. Incredible. Wow.

St. Louis Blues: The job Craig Berube has done with this team since it was DEAD LAST IN THE LEAGUE on New Year’s Day is nothing short of incredible. Just astonishing. They crushed the Jets. Made it look easy more often than not. How does Berube not have his “interim” tag removed the second the season ends? How has it not happened already? Whoever comes out of that Nashville/Dallas series is gonna have their hands full.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The PK just doesn’t have an answer for Boston, even as it went scoreless in Game 5. The Bruins’ power play went 2-for-2 on Sunday afternoon, and now sits 7-of-16 in the series. My theory: a 56.3 percent PK just isn’t going to get it done. And it’s not for Freddie Andersen’s lack of effort, because he was electrifying in Game 6. He boasts a .925 save percentage so far in the series. Just great hockey from him.

Vegas Golden Knights: Sucks to put up 59 shots and lose in 2OT. Really sucks to put up those 59 shots on Martin Jones and make him look like Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy had a kid who previously looked like if Tommy Salo and Ondrej Pavelec had a kid. This was cool though:

Washington Capitals: Tough to replace T.J. Oshie and it’s certainly wishful thinking to say Devante Smith-Pelly was an adequate fill-in and they certainly didn’t need Oshie on the power play or at 5-on-5. Miss me with the “hockey’s not played on paper” nonsense. Smith-Pelly played less than 11 minutes and was adequate in a fourth-line role. But as long as Washington isn’t going to lose at home, it’s going to be in good shape. Especially if Nicklas Backstrom continues to play like Wayne Gretzky.

Winnipeg Jets: I feel you, Blake.

Gold Star Award

I feel like Jaden Schwartz single-handedly outscoring the Jets to eliminate them from the playoffs is a vulgar display of power but you have to respect that.

Minus of the Weekend

Feels like someone’s cooking the books in Washington. Alex Ovechkin has been credited for 24 hits in three home games — including 11 on Saturday somehow? — and only five in two games in Raleigh. Come on.

Play of the Weekend

Are you kidding me with this save? Come on, dude.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “slg1963” only wants to help.

“Callahan back to Rangers for TB 1st instead of their 2nd which the Rangers currently own. TB get their 2nd back and get Cally off the books to sign Point. Rangers get another 1st round pick and can keep Callahan , trade him or buy him out . Thoughts .”


Does the whole town have to hear about this?

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is and his Twitter is @twolinepass.

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