30 IN 30 - WINNIPEG JETS (20th place)
Every fan in the league has to be wondering if/when the Jets will embrace the good ol' days and switch back to original logo full-time. With Winnipeg vintage in mind, Patrick Laine was clearly channeling his inner Teemu Selanne this past season, ripping opposition defences and goalies apart in his rookie campaign. Those who doubted his confidence were slapped in the face with highlights every night they tuned into Sportscentre. Budding partner in crime Nik Ehlers, and improving all-around centre Mark Scheifele, have this team quickly shaping into an offensive force. Despite goals aplenty this year, the Jets learned the hard way what bad goaltending and bad team defence can do to one's playoff hopes. Finishing second last in goals against kind of hurts your team's ability to win. Where do the Jets go from here with the roster? Unsure. But the choice in protection list structure will set the course.
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Byfuglien (*NMC)
- Enstrom (*NMC)
- Copp? Dano?
- Byfuglien (*NMC)
- Enstrom (*NMC)
Another team on the verge of success, another fairly predictable protection list. The Jets will be one of the league's few teams who should take advantage of the 8-1 model without much argument for the alternative. Holding four defencemen with value on the roster - Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers - taking the path of least resistance is the best option. The alternative would inevitably mean giving away Tyler Myers, without the assurance of a prospect in your development pipeline to replace him. The drop off in Toby Enstrom's game last season makes his presence even more valuable.
The question up front in this preferred 8-1 structure for the Jets will then come down to the 4th forward selection. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Bryan Little are absolute locks, whereas the rest of the unit will be evaluated for both impact and value.
For our purposes, I think we can narrow this list pretty quickly to 3 potential players duking it out as the last protection pick: Joel Armia, Adam Lowry, and Mathieu Perreault. In no way should this discredit players such as Andrew Copp and Marko Dano, but the trio above remain higher value commodities.
take the HIGHER CEILING OR THE HIGHER FLOOR?
Looking at this group of forwards we see three different players. Joel Armia very noticeably has a deadly wrist shot and overall scoring potential. His recent contributions on the penalty kill show added versatility to his game, and a growing awareness of his defensive responsibilities. Adam Lowry is an imposing 6'5'' centre who made big strides in his development this past season. Providing, at minimum, complementary scoring, Lowry's size is added value for a team who could see two small centres (Bryan Little and Nic Petan) in the lineup next season. Finally, Mathieu Perreault is a consistent 2nd-line veteran capable of 40-50 points per season and a player who has shown a willing commitment to the Jets organization after signing a 4 year extension last summer.
On the numbers, I would consider Adam Lowry the most valuable of the group (to the Jets) and our choice for the last protection spot. His possession numbers this past season were strong for a 3rd line centre, and get even better once you adjust for his defensive zone face-off responsibility (37% of draws in D-zone vs only 24% in Offensive). To go along with an overall face-off percentage of 50.8 after taking the 2nd most draws on the team, it is clear he has well and truly carved out a role on the Jets roster. His 2015-16 stats are not to be dismissed, falling flat in several categories, but for a young player finishing only his 3rd season in the NHL, the ability to kick back and improve on almost every statistical measure gives us a reason for optimism.
Next up on our ranking, and the favoured protection pick by many hockey critics is Joel Armia. On occasion, offensive talent oozes out of him; he's able to flat out embarrass defenders if given the space, and holds a big league wrist league. But consistency remains an issue and one has to wonder whether he is a linemate dependent player at the NHL level. WOWY stats and Relative GF% appear to support such a claim, showing a forward who has generally driven down his linemates' goal differentials (GF%) and Corsi. Armia is very much still putting his game together and would likely require a spot on one of the Jets top-2 scoring lines in order to do so. Therefore, as upsetting as it may be leaving him unprotected, if you look at the Jets roster - including players on the verge of cracking the lineup - there appear to be several skaters capable of top-9 roles (ex. Copp, Dano, Roslovic), and one player in particular (Kyle Connor) capable of top-6 designation in the very near future. With so many bodies willing and able to replace his limited impact in the lineup thus far, leaving Armia unprotected and potentially losing him to Vegas would be the easier (albeit, still tough) pill to swallow out of the two options thus far.
Mathieu Perreault, unfortunately comes in at the bottom of our list. Despite consistent production over the last several years, his goal differential remains quite low in comparison. His overall on-ice save percentage is tied strongly to this dip, which sits well below an acceptable NHL standard. However, from a possession perspective he is a dynamo... Okay, thats probably too bold of a statement, but still, his career Corsi output is an impressive 53.8%. Why leave him at the bottom of the list for the Jets then? Well, at 29, and locked in for another 4 years, there is concern for both age-related drop off, and the ability to be leapfrogged by the team's up and coming offensive stars. At that point, is it worth paying a 3rd line winger $4.125M/year knowing his point totals will decrease with a cut in ice-time and power play opportunity? Not really. If the Jets want to take full advantage of their young scorers, they'll have to give them the appropriate minutes to do so. With the future in mind, Perreault becomes the most expendable.
Do the Golden Knights Agree With this Ranking?
Ranking these players in order of importance for the Jets does not guarantee the Golden Knights will see it the same way. The team will have to assess these players with the big picture of their expansion roster in mind. If they can fill a certain team role from one expansion selection, looking towards unique alternatives in another pick becomes ever more important. With that in mind, Vegas will likely have to fill a scoring line roster spot with the Winnipeg selection. This means deciding whether Joel Armia is capable of such a jump without any professional history in the role to back up this belief. On size and speed alone he appears to be the more ideal option, but decision-making and overall adaptability to the professional game strongly favour Matthieu Perreault. Plus, if anyone were to have an inside track on Perreault's abilities and personality, it would be his former GM in Washington George McPhee.
Overall if McPhee wants to provide an environment for his expected crop of young forwards to learn and develop at a faster rate, then Perreault is the pick. He has consistently made his teammates better when they're on the ice with him than when they're apart, and provides this Vegas team a proven playmaker in case someone like Vadim Shipachyov flops. I'll note his injury issues obviously linger in the backdrop of this selection, but he carries low risk status and a higher floor on his abilities.
If the Jets found a goalie that could fill that gaping hole called a net last year, they probably could've snuck into playoffs this year (...and subsequently ruined the Predators' Cup run before it even started). So priority number one this offseason has to involve bringing in a new tender. Hellebuyck has shown glimpses in the past, but after last year's performance might be another season or two away from solidifying his spot in a starting role. Overall, the Jets look to be in solid shape thanks to years of quality draft-day selections and the ping pong ball that got them Patrick Laine.
And seriously, who isn't excited to see Kyle Connor join Laine and Ehlers in this forward group?
Next up: Philadelphia Flyers