The Winnipeg Jets will miss the playoffs for the third straight year, and for the seventh straight dating back to 2007-08 in their previous incarnation as the Atlanta Thrashers. That's prompted speculation in the Winnipeg media over possible off-season roster changes.
Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press believes it's time for Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to move out a core player for a return, which will improve the overall roster depth. Lawless considers Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba as the only untouchables, though he also advocates retaining underrated center Bryan Little and captain Andrew Ladd.
Lawless feels winger Evander Kane is their best trade chip, citing an NHL GM suggesting Kane could fetch “a major return” of players as well as draft picks and/or prospects. Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian could also become trade bait, though Lawless cited the lengthy contracts of Byfuglien and Enstrom along with Bogosian's injury history as hurting their trade value.
With so many of the Jets' core players under expensive, long-term contracts, the Winnipeg Sun's Kirk Penton doubts there's much Cheveldayoff can do unless he's willing to “get creative with a trade or two”. That could mean retaining salary to bolster the trade value of those high-priced players.
Failing that, Penton believes Cheveldayoff could spend the summer making minor additions. The Jets GM has a mixed record in that regard. While last summer's acquisition of Michael Frolik proved worthwhile, Devin Setoguchi was a disappointment.
After three summers of cautious moves, Cheveldayoff has little choice but to pursue a significant move to bolster his team's playoff chances. Kane would undoubtedly net the best return, but unless the 22-year-old winger requests a trade, Cheveldayoff could be reluctant to part with him. Byfuglien and Enstrom could be trade candidates if the Jets GM is willing to pick up part of their remaining salaries.
Goaltending appears the key problem area to address this summer. While the Jets have steadfastly defended the performance of starter Ondrej Pavelec, his inconsistency has hurt the club. His NHL career GAA is 2.96 2.97 and his save percentage is .906. While part of the blame for those numbers can be pinned on the club's rebuilding process earlier in his NHL career, Pavelec has yet to prove himself a reliable NHL starter.
Recent speculation linked the Jets with Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer, who's been reduced relegated to backup duty. He's a restricted free agent this summer and doesn't have a future with the Leafs. Lawless recently listed Reimer among the Jets goaltending options.
If Cheveldayoff decides to upgrade his goaltending he will likely have to move Pavelec, who has three years remaining on his contract at an annual cap hit of $3.9 million. If a trade isn't possible, Pavelec could receive a compliance buyout.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.