The Winnipeg Jets put forth a spirited fight, finishing four points out of a playoff spot in 2013, but there is still much room for improvement for a team that finished 23rd in goal differential.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at what figures to be a very busy summer for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, who has some top tier restricted free agents to address in addition to other holes in the Winnipeg lineup.
In the history of this franchise, going back to Atlanta, they have made the playoffs just once in 13 seasons, so it's understandable that a push for a playoff spot can generate excitement, but the Jets have lots of room to improve if they are going to be a legitimate playoff contender going forward.
Not only does Cheveldayoff need to address contracts for restricted free agents Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian, but Alexander Burmistrov has made it known that he would like to play elsewhere, so there's plenty to do before even considering the half dozen unrestricted free agents who could leave.
What that means, though, is quite a bit of potential turnover and it's more significant for the Jets because they could have their fourth line returning intact, so if they have to add four forwards that's going to be a challenge. Prospect Mark Scheifele can take one spot, but that would still leave potentially three openings.
Filling a couple of holes on the blueline is more manageable, with prospects Jacob Trouba, Zach Redmond and Arturs Kulda perhaps closer to taking on NHL roles but, overall, this has the makings of a very busy summer in Winnipeg.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013 regular season ratings with a 93.65.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Kevin Cheveldayoff/Claude Noel
Jets Forwards Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
Ever-durable captain Andrew Ladd has missed one game in the last five seasons and is coming off the most productive offensive season of his career. His 0.96 points per game was easily a career-high and he played a strong puck possession game, as usual. Chris Kunitz was the only other left winger with at least 45 points and a double-digit plus rating.
Production was down a little for 21-year-old Evander Kane, compared to 2011-2012, but he spent most of the season on Olli Jokinen's wing and that wasn't bringing the best out of anyone. On the plus side, he played a career-high 20:27 per game and he has already scored 80 goals in his career. Since 2000, he's tied for 10th most goals through 21 years of age.
34-year-old Olli Jokinen, for all his flaws, had been a productive scorer for Calgary in the couple of seasons preceding his signing with the Jets as a free agent last summer, but he most definitely was not a productive scorer in 2013, as both his shots per game (1.89) and points per game (0.31) were his worst since 2000-2001. The Jets don't have a lot of forwards under contract but, under different circumstances, Jokinen could be an easy buy out.
James Wright first made the league as a 19-year-old with the Tampa Bay Lightning and then spent the bulk of the next two seasons in the American Hockey League before he earned a spot on the Jets last season. Thus far, aside from being a young guy with good size, Wright hasn't done anything to dispel the notion that he's going to have to battle continuously to keep his spot.
Chris Thorburn's role decreased significantly, as he played a career-low 6:19 per game, after back-to-back seasons averaging more than ten minutes of time on ice per game. That actually suits his possession numbers better, and Thorburn is one of the Jets' most active scrappers, with 48 over the last five regular seasons.
Though he scored a career-high 13 goals and 21 points in 2011-2012, checking centre Jim Slater isn't expected to produce offensively, as he's started fewer than 30% of his shifts in the offensive zone over the past two seasons, but one goal and two points in 26 games isn't exactly the desired outcome either.
Joining this franchise, first in Atlanta now Winnipeg, has been great for Blake Wheeler, the lanky right winger who has 105 points over the past two seasons, ranking fifth among right wingers. Even if there is some puck luck involved in those numbers, Wheeler is one of the Jets' most effective forwards.
A steady two-way player who gets the top-line centre role in Winnipeg by default, Bryan Little managed a career-best 0.67 points per game, which is okay, but it's indicative of the Jets' limitations that this is what they get from a their No. 1 centre, playing more than 20 minutes per game over the last two seasons. Among 37 forwards to play at least 2400 minutes over the last two seasons, Little ranks 36th with 78 points (Shane Doan, with 77, ranks 37th).
21-year-old Alexander Burmistrov has put up decent possession numbers in the past couple seasons, but his 10 points in 44 games last season was a career-low scoring rate and, amid some of that frustration, Burmistrov has asked to be moved.
24-year-old Eric Tangradi had been a perennial prospect, struggling to stick as a power forward in Pittsburgh, but did manage to hold a regular spot in Winnipeg's lineup. His possession numbers were okay, in a limited role, but with two goals and nine points in 81 career games, he's on the roster bubble until he produces more.
The Jets have holes to fill up front. They could use a couple of top six forwards and, potentially, a new third line if Burmistrov gets his wish to move on. On the free agent market, Winnipeg may not be in prime position to land top tier guys, but any of Brad Boyes, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Mason Raymond, Ruslan Fedotenko, Colby Armstrong, Chad LaRose or Blake Comeau could have some appeal and the Jets could probably use several.
Jets Defence Usage Chart from somekindofninja.com
For all the concerns about Dustin Byfuglien not being a completely well-rounded defenceman, it's important to note that he's much more asset than liability. His possession numbers are good and he ranks second among all defencemen in goals (40) and points (134) over the last three seasons.
Smooth skating Tobias Enstrom missed more than half of the 2013 season with injuries and his possession stats weren't as strong as usual and while he can be be outmuscled by bigger forwards, 28-year-old Enstrom has been a consistent stabilizing presence throughout his career, playing an average of 23:29 per game.
Mark Stuart plays a no-frills game. He's steady and tough, plays under 17 minutes per game, but has scored more than 10 points just twice in his career, so there is no question where his focus lies.
22-year-old Zach Bogosian plays a rough and tumble game, but he's had difficulty staying healthy, missing 10 games or more in four of his five NHL seasons. When he does play, Bogosian logs 23 minutes a game, takes on tough assignments and contributes offensively. Due for a new contract, as a restricted free agent, this summer, Bogosian could be a long-term fixture on the Jets blueline or as a trade chip to help improve the Jets' forwards.
Paul Postma is still earning trust with his defensive game, as he played 15 minutes per game as a rookie last season, but he's a smart puck-moving defenceman who can work the power play.
The ninth overall pick last summer, Jacob Trouba signed with the Jets after one year at the University of Michigan. Trouba is a physical presence who can also contribute offensively. He should be expected to step into a top four role immediately. With Ron Hainsey a free agent, there is an opening for Trouba.
The Jets also have prospects Zach Redmond and Arturs Kulda ready to challenge for roles.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'12-'13 Cap Hit
The Jets made a significant commitment to Ondrej Pavelec, signing him through 2017 and, while he's shown flashes, consistency remains elusive. Over the last four seasons, Pavelec's .908 save percentage ranks 23rd out of 24 goalies to have played at least 150 games.
If that financial commitment means the Jets are pressing forward with Pavelec as their starter, they still ought to find a quality backup, one that can at least challenge Pavelec for starts, if necessary. Free agents like Jose Theodore, Anton Khudobin, Ray Emery or Dan Ellis would likely be upgrades at a potentially reasonable price.
||12-17-29, -9, 37 GP
||39-40-79, +27, 45 GP
||St. John's (AHL)
||8-11-19, -3, 38 GP
||Swift Current (WHL)
||45-43-88, +18, 72 GP
||Novosibirsk Siber (KHL)
||9-6-15, -3, 50 GP
||20-3-0, 1.37 GAA, .952 SV%
||St. John's (AHL)
||7-4-11, -6, 35 GP
||St. John's (AHL)
||15-23-4, 2.79 GAA, .907 SV%
||St. John's (AHL)
||11-12-23, -6, 66 GP
||St. John's (AHL)
||29-26-55, +9, 59 GP
A punishing hitter with a heavy shot, Jacob Trouba comes to Winnipeg with high expectations and he'll have an opportunity to play a significant role right away.
Mark Scheifele has played 11 games with the Jets over the last two seasons and he dominated the Ontario Hockey League this past season, scoring 120 points in 66 regular season and playoff games combined. He should be a regular for the Jets next season and perhaps this season will have given him the confidence to be a scorer when he makes the jump.
Zach Redmond got into eight NHL games with the Jets, performing very well, before suffering a serious gash on his leg that caused him to miss a couple of months before getting into a couple AHL games at the end of the year. He's a good puck-moving defenceman with size and mobility, so the 24-year-old should be ready for a role with Winnipeg next season.
A lanky winger who showed nice improvement throughout his WHL career, with an offensvie breakthrough in 2013, Adam Lowry was a third-round pick in 2011 and saw some time in the AHL at the end of last season.
Arturs Kulda turns 25 this summer and spent last season in the KHL. The Latvian played four seasons in the AHL, along with 15 NHL games, prior, so he's mature as prospects go, but he plays a rugged defensive game and is ready for a longer look with the Jets.
Forecasting young goaltenders is a tricky business, but it's impossible to ignore Connor Hellebuyck, a fifth-round pick in last summer's draft, who just had an unbelievable freshman season for UMass-Lowell. At any level, a .952 save percentage is noteworthy and merits watching, especially since Hellebuyck also has a 6-foot-4 frame.
Expectations have probably been unreasonably high for Patrice Cormier, who has two points in 40 NHL games and 49 points in 104 career AHL games, but the soon-to-be 23-year-old is an option as a checking centre because he has size, speed and plays aggressively.
While Hellebuyck is more of a wildcard, Edward Pasquale is the safer option among Winnipeg's goaltending prospects. He has a .907 save percentage in 105 AHL games, which hardly stands out, but he's the closest of Jets goaltending prospects to the NHL.
It seems that Carl Klingberg took a step back in his second AHL season but, as a big forward who can skate and play the body, he still has a chance to reach the NHL if he performs better in 2013.
Eric O'Dell scored nearly a point per game in his second AHL season, for a St. John's team that wasn't full of scorers (no other Ice Caps player had more than 15 goals, O'Dell had 29).
Some other recent draft picks, includnig Ivan Telegin, Scott Kosmachuk and Lukas Sutter could bear watching as well.
13th - Max Domi, Nikita Zadorov, Ryan Pulock
According to www.capgeek.com, the Jets have approximately $31.9M committed to the 2013-2014 salary cap for 10 players.
Check out my possible Jets lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top six forwards, two top nine forwards, one top four defenceman, goaltender.
What I said the Jets needed last year: Three top nine forwards, two defencemen, backup goaltender.
They added: Olli Jokinen, James Wright, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Paul Postma, Al Montoya.
Alexander Burmistrov, Zach Bogosian.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.