Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will almost certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Winnipeg.
The first thing you will notice here is the absence of Patrik Laine. But given the current climate, can you blame me? Even with Laine signing a two-year bridge deal, it feels like he’s going to need a change of scenery soon and while that may bring a nice return back to the Jets, we can’t speculate specifically what that might be. What we’re left with is a diminished Winnipeg attack that will still have a good top end thanks to Scheifele, Ehlers and Connor (still unsigned himself). Vesalainen could move the needle if he finds his scoring touch, but that’s still an unknown. A surplus of centers in the bottom six meant some shifting around was necessary and age pushes captain Wheeler down the depth chart – but he’ll still have value. One dark horse to consider: wrecking ball Austin Wong, who is a freshman at Harvard this season.
With the uncertainty surrounding Dustin Byfuglien this season, the Jets are confronting their future already, but in five years it will definitely be different. Morrissey will be the undisputed No. 1, though it will be fun to see how good Heinola can become in the next five years. Samberg and Poolman bring some size to this unit and if the Jets want a different look, there’s 6-foot-7 Logan Stanley, who has great reach and snarl. Winnipeg has drafted a lot of blueliners lately, so there will be ample competition for spots.
Probably the easiest decision here is keeping Hellebuyck as the No. 1 stopper in Winnipeg. Though his stats dipped last season, his contract and his upside should protect him through the duration of his deal, which ends in the summer of 2024. His backup? That’s another story. The Jets currently have Laurent Brossoit and Eric Comrie, but Brossoit is headed for unrestricted free agency next summer and Comrie will be 29 in five years: would he be satisfied with a small role for that long? Berdin had better stats than Comrie last season with AHL Manitoba and the Russian kid has just begun his pro career, so he might be a better fit as the No. 2 in five years.
Overall, this is a decent Jets lineup, but not a particularly intimidating one. If Laine mends fences in Winnipeg, then obviously the future is a lot brighter. As currently predicted, this will be a veteran squad that can nurture the youngsters coming up, though the ceiling doesn’t seem to be sky-high with some of the new recruits. Heinola is the exception to that rule, while Samberg is very enticing thanks to his size, shot and NCAA success with back-to-back champion Minnesota-Duluth. Winnipeg has been pretty good at drafting under GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, though trades have diminished some of that over the past few years as the Jets went for a title. In the next couple of years, they would do well to get some of those selections back.