NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, three important questions facing the Winnipeg Jets.
1. Does Patrik Laine have a future with them?
Speculation was rampant earlier this offseason that the 22-year-old forward would be traded. But Laine, the No. 2 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, remains with Winnipeg.
During the 2019 offseason, when he was a restricted free agent, Laine asked the Jets for more ice time and responsibility. He scored 63 points (28 goals, 35 assists) in 68 games last season, and his average ice time per game increased more than two minutes to 19:25 from 17:14 in 2018-19 .
Laine was third on the Jets last season in goals behind Kyle Connor (38) and Mark Scheifele (29) and has scored 138 in his four seasons with Winnipeg, tied for seventh in the NHL in that span. He has one season left on a two-year, $13.5 million contract ($6.75 million average annual value) he agreed to Sept. 27, 2019, and can become a restricted free agent after this season.
“So we’re looking at all our options, including potentially trading different players,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff told NHL.com on Oct. 2 when asked about reports that Laine could be traded.
2. Can their revamped defenseman group continue to progress?
Dylan DeMelo, who signed a four-year contract Oct. 7 after being acquired in a trade from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 18, likely will be the partner for No. 1 defenseman Josh Morrissey. The Jets signed free agent Derek Forbort to a one-year contract Oct. 11. Returning are Neal Pionk, Tucker Poolman, Nathan Beaulieu, Luca Sbisa and Sami Niku.
Pionk, who was acquired with a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft (defenseman Ville Heinola, No. 20) in a trade from the New York Rangers on June 17, 2019, for defenseman Jacob Trouba, led the Jets with an average of 23:23 of ice time per game last season.
Winnipeg fared better than many expected last season after it had four defensemen from 2018-19 not return (Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Dustin Byfuglien), earning a spot in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in large part thanks to Connor Hellebuyck, who won the Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL. The Jets allowed 2.83 goals per game, 10th in the NHL, despite allowing the seventh-most shots per game (32.6).
“From a starting point of view, we feel far more comfortable with our back end than we did a year ago,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said.
3. How will Hellebuyck follow up his Vezina win?
With the NHL expected to have a shorter, condensed schedule, the Jets want to maximize Hellebuyck’s impact, and backup Laurent Brossoit will play a role in executing that plan.
“Connor looks at [Laurent] and sees a guy who can win us games,” Maurice said. “I think the schedule we’re anticipating is going to put [Laurent] in a position to be very strong as well.”
Hellebuyck’s confidence figures to be soaring after winning the Vezina. He allowed two or fewer goals in 32 of his 58 games and was second in the NHL in wins (31), first in shutouts (six), and seventh in save percentage (.922; minimum 20 games). Hellebuyck also led the NHL in shots faced (1,796) and saves (1,656), and he was tied for first in games (58) with Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.
“We’re going to really analyze everything that happened [last] year and really try and improve on anywhere that I feel like I could stop a couple more pucks,” Hellebuyck said Sept. 21. “It might be minute areas, but those are going to go a long way. It’s going to be taking my game and making it even more complete.”