Montreal remains in a complete tailspin. Calgary have been some of the biggest underachievers of the season after advancing to the second round of the playoffs last year. Ottawa just shook things up by trading for one of the most scoffed at contracts in the league.
Thursday night, Toronto and Edmonton battled for 30th place in the NHL. Just in case you’re not sure, there are only 30 teams in the league.
Life on the Canadian NHL front is not great this year and the really crazy thing in all the above disappointment is that the Winnipeg Jets might have the bleakest outlook of the bunch. While the plan and direction for each of their Canadian counterparts can be summed in a word or two (Toronto: rebuilding; Calgary: growing pains; Montreal: injuries suck), it’s hard to figure out what word or phrase best sums up where the Jets are right now and where they’ll going in the next couple years.
They don’t have the promising prospects that the teams surrounding them in the basement of the standings boast and their current lineup doesn’t exactly scream “One Guy Away” either. They feel like a middling franchise that is poised to remain that way for the next several seasons as they work to replenish their minor league ranks and see if some of the young talent currently on the roster and in the system can develop into front-line players.
There are some pieces in place: Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba are a quality, young one-two punch on the blue line, Nikolaj Ehlers, who turns 20 in two days, has been solid in his rookie season, and Mark Schiefele is a steady contributor that still has room to grow going forward. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has been a revelation between the pipes and appears to be a cornerstone in net that the club can build around, though one season of strong play has proven to be fool’s gold numerous times in the past, especially with goaltenders. But those five and the veteran trio of Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Dustin Byfulgien hasn’t been enough to carry this team into the playoff hunt this season and without any real difference-makers in the prospect ranks, it’s hard to see how the Jets take the next step.
The prospects acquired in the Evander Kane trade – Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux – aren’t at the point of contributing yet, though Armia has gotten thrown into the deep end with the big club a little already this season, and the Manitoba Moose aren’t exactly brimming with “they’ll be major contributors when they come up” talent either.
The club re-signed Byfulgien to a hefty extension that will keep him in “The Peg” through the 2020-21 seasons (if he plays it out in its entirety) earlier this month. It’s a move that makes sense in the here and now, but doesn’t necessarily feel like the right decision long-term.
“Big Buff” turns 31 in March and probably could have fetched a solid return from a Stanley Cup contender at the deadline as an offensive contributor from the back end. While it’s great to have his consistent contributions right now, will they hold up over the course of the extension and are they of greater value than adding a couple younger assets would have been?
Clearly, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff prefers the known returns Byfuglien provides (or just thinks it’s easier to move captain Andrew Ladd at the deadline), but time will tell if that is the right call.
Maybe Winnipeg finds some combination of current players and prospects that proves all this wrong – something clicks, they climb the standings next year and I look like an idiot – but while I can see the path for the rest of Canada’s NHL contingent, the road ahead for the Jets just looks cloudy to me.