Winnipeg Jets Off-season Expectations

Part 3: Defence Wins Championships –

As a follow-up from my previous posts on how the Jets might deal with their lineup this off-season, I will continue to do a positional post starting from the net out so today Winnipeg Jets defence corp.

Exhibit A – The Chicago Blackhawks 2015 edition. The Stanley Cup would have been hoisted by another team if not for the super heroics of playoff MVP Duncan Keith.  Not that he did it entirely alone.   The D core for the Hawks also exhibited the stalwart play of Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, ex-Jet Johnny Oduya, Michael Roszival, deadline deal acquisition Kimmo Timonen, and youngster David Rundblad.  Combined, these defencemen were able to stymie the high-powered number one NHL offense of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Given that defense does indeed win championships, the Winnipeg Jets have a bright future as this is their position of greatest depth.  At present, the franchise has 8 NHL experienced and proven defencemen under contract for 2016.

Additionally, the team boasts young prospects Josh Morrissey and Jan Kostalek who both won their respective major junior league’s defenceman of the year awards as well as Brenden Kichton who had an exceptionally impressive rookie season in 2013-14 in the AHL however took a step backwards this past year. There are also three others in free agency: Keaton Ellerby and Paul Postma are RFAs while Adam Pardy is a UFA.

With so many NHL caliber defencemen in the fold, it seems likely that the youngsters will be allowed to mature for at least a year in the AHL while roster bubble players such as Ellerby, Postma, and Pardy will only be resigned if they take 2 way contracts.  However with eight defencemen on the roster, word is that the Winnipeg Jets are looking to move one or two out via trade.  Most years, the prime targets to move out would be veterans who can bring back a mid-round (2-4) pick.  Jay Harrison, Mark Stuart, and Grant Clitsome would be prime examples of these types of players.  

The problem with this is that while the forward depths of free agents available July 1 is extremely limited but the number of quality defencemen available is quite high.  As such, the lower paired players that the Jets might be most interested in moving will return much less in trade.  Probably a lower round draft pick better known as a lottery ticket since the likelihood of getting a quality prospect has similar odds to winning on a scratch ticket.  Perhaps due to this, we have recently heard rumblings of trading away a higher end talent in order to receive a greater return.  Looking at the stable of defencemen available, it would be hard to see the Winnipeg Jets moving either of Jacob Trouba or Tyler Myers both of whom are future cornerstone defencemen who will anchor the team for many years to come.  This leaves the Winnipeg Jets perhaps looking to see what kind of returns they may get if they moved out Dustin Byfuglien or Tobias Enstrom.

Byfuglien and Enstrom both play top 4 minutes and could fetch a decent return on the trade market.  I have previously opined on my belief the Winnipeg Jets would be best served to move Byfuglien back to forward.  What better way to add a solid fore-checking  monster to your lineup when not having to open the purse strings at free agency or lose an asset in trade?  He has blown coverages (see the playoff series vs Anaheim), made bone headed selfish plays (see the playoff series vs Anaheim), and coughed up the puck at poor moments by making stupid decisions.  I think you get the point.  However, like previous examples, not just the Anaheim series but also his entire playing history are three major reasons that addition by subtraction is a major win for the Winnipeg Jets if they move Byfuglien to forward.  As for Enstrom, I would LOVE to see him traded for assets.

Three Reasons to Trade Enstrom:

  • Enstrom is an offensively gifted, smooth skating defenceman with a high hockey IQ who is small in stature.  The Winnipeg Jets three main defensive prospects (Morrissey, Kostalek, and Kichton) are all listed at a max of 6 feet. All 3 are to a certain degree, described to be quite similar to Enstrom. Defencemen in the NHL today tend to be taller and bigger.  There is not enough room on the Winnipeg Jets roster of the future for so many diminutive D on the team.  Moving Enstrom opens the door for cheaper prospects to vie for his role on the team.
  • Enstrom is signed through to 2018 with a cap hit of 5.75M.  Both Andrew Ladd and Byfuglien will be UFAs at the end of next season.  Trouba, Mark Scheifele, and Adam Lowry will all become RFAs as well.  Shedding Enstrom’s salary will open up some room for the Winnipeg Jets to resign some very important pieces to the franchise’s future.
  • The scouting report on Enstrom from theHockeyNews.com has this to say:

    “His diminutive stature somewhat limits his effectiveness five on five at the NHL level.  Can get overwhelmed physically, especially in the corners.”

Again, I will use the series versus the Anaheim Ducks as an example however it is only indicative of a greater trend.  Enstrom was often subject to an aggressive fore-check by the Ducks who were quite successful at gaining the puck from him and pinning the Winnipeg Jets deep in their own zone.  This resulted in numerous scoring chances against the Jets and were a partial drag on the possession stats of Enstrom’s defense partner Tyler Myers.

Now, it may be that the Winnipeg Jets will start the season with Enstrom in the fold.  However, it would come as no surprise if he were to be moved during this upcoming season for a mixture of these three reasons.  Add a fourth reason, Enstrom should have some value in return due to his ability to command the powerplay, make smart passes, and play “top 4” minutes for a new team.  I have to wonder if Columbus might be interested as they have a dire need for a puck moving defenceman and a glut of good young forwards.

I honestly believe that the glut of defencemen on the market this off-season would make a trade over the summer both difficult to pull off as well as ill-timed due to the diminished return in value.

So, assuming the Winnipeg Jets move Byfuglien to forward and do not trade Enstrom here are our projected D lines to start the season:

Stuart/Trouba

Enstrom/Myers

Chiarot/Clitsome (might be injured still?)

Harrison

What do you think?  Are the Jets likely to make a d-man trade?  Do you see any off-season D-man moves?  Please post your comments and look forward to my forward review in a couple of weeks.

written by Guest Blogger @aneegadole


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Comments

  1. George Bain says:

    Agree with most of your thoughts. I think playing Byfuglien at the forward position makes a lot of sense, but I can’t see it happening. He wouldn’t be happy for one thing and a player plays better when happy. When he’s on he’s a force but you need a Chairot or another stay at home defenseman to cover up for him. On the power play I think he should be in front of the net.

    I agree with you about trading Enstrom. Get a bigger defenseman or a forward.

    • Aneegadole says:

      I agree that Buff should be moved to being in front of the net for the pp at times. Especially when needing to switch things up, get a different look, and force the opposition outside of their game plan. There were a number of times during the Ducks series where it seemed the Jets were less prepared and in dire need of a spark. Not much was working according to the established plan so why not throw a curve ball at the ducks, have Buff fly from the point on the pp, have a wing slide to d, and screen Anderson who was saving nearly everything.

      As for playing time, sometimes less is more. Not every player can handle 20+ minutes per game, some are much better suited to less. I think Buff is one of those. I absolutely agree that he can be a dominant force when on his game but that is too quickly negated when he has a momentary lapse.

      I thought that Buffy was a true team player last year while playing forward. He didn’t hide his preference of being a rear guard but also didn’t gripe saying he would do what was best for the team. He is the best insurance policy the team could have in case of injury to either position, easily able to slot back or front.

      Now that Pardy and Chiarot are resigned the log jam at d is set. I am curious to see how Paul Maurice deals with it.

  2. Todd Leroux says:

    I agree with everything except one point (not that I am correct): Dustin Byfuglien.

    Byfuglien is (much) more effective as a Dman, IMO. This is largely because it is where he prefers to play. Being at a playing weight (I would guess) of over 260 lbs., being a forward is too taxing on him. Plus, he is on the ice for 18 – 20 minutes as opposed to 25 – 30.

    As a Dman, he also would have more opportunities to tee-up a near 300 lb. slapper – another tool better utilized.

    Byfuglien can still do the odd game or occasional shift as forward, but as a regular…on the point.

    Having said all this, I would trade him at the deadline (or before). I think he commands too much individual focus (like Ovechkin), while spreading the love around seems to win Cups.

    One thing though, he’s gotta go East.

    IMO.

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