Hockey

Jacob Trouba to the Rangers seemed like it was on the cards for a while. It was no secret that Trouba was miserable in Winnipeg. And really, who wouldn’t be? It’s cold as fuck, the coach is an idiot who kept playing Trouba on his off-side, and they’d dicked him around on a contract a couple times while he was restricted. As he was lining up to be unrestricted after this season, they had to cash in on him as he was never going to stay.

And the Rangers are the exact type of team that would need him. They’re on the upswing of a rebuild, but lacking a #1 d-man. Trouba has been labeled that all of his career, and he’s still young enough to be that for a while as the Rangers move from developing to contenders. And that could come as soon as next year.

The problem is that Trouba hasn’t really lived up to that. Bigger issue when you’re taking down $8M a year on the cap.

Trouba has been something of a possession-nightmare with the Rangers. He’s only got a 42% Corsi-rate and an even worse 41% expected goals share. These are way below his numbers in Winnipeg, and the Jets have never been possession-dominant. He’s below the team-rate in The Empire State, a first for him, though not terribly so as the Rangers still have some major issues defensively. Still, this was probably drawn up as Trouba being the beacon of consistency and hope. Not so much.

If the Rangers were hoping that they would also get something like the 50 points Trouba put up last year in Winnipeg, that’s on them. Trouba consistently put up 25 or so points there, and only saw the binge last year on the power play with all those forwards running wild. Trouba isn’t a power play QB, that’s supposed to be Skjei anyway, though he does have a pretty big shot. The Jets shot 18% with him on the ice on the power play, and got a lot of shots. The Rangers are short of that.

Of course, the debate could be had whether Trouba was ever the first pairing anchor he thought himself to be and was billed as in Winnipeg. His numbers are ok there, even good, but they’re not Norris-level. When in the spotlight he’d been all right, and at times in 2018 would flash that dominance, but last year like the rest of his teammates he didn’t look all that bothered. He and Skjei have yet to find the magic, though time is on their side.

Of course, that’s not the only thing that was supposed to go better for the Rangers. Kaapo Kakko hasn’t even out-performed Kirby Dach, even though he went into the draft with far more hype. Then again, so did Jack Hughes, and he hasn’t done much north of jack and shit either across the Hudson in Newark. Perhaps Adam Fox can lighten the pressure on Trouba, but he won’t lessen the contract. They seem to have fucked things up with Lias Andersson already, and Filip Chytil has yet to splash. The Rangers are performing over their heads this year anyway, but they’ll need Trouba and a host of others to pick it the fuck up before they’re contenders on Broadway again.

 

 

Hockey

The Rangers attempted to hit warp-speed on their rebuild with a couple big signings and one big draft pick. That’s all it takes in the NHL. And thanks to a mediocre division, the Rangers could be poised to make a big move. They’re not there yet, as far as being in the glitterati, but they are suddenly worth watching again. Where the lights shine bright and all that.

2018-2019

32-36-14  78 points (7th in Metro Division)

2.70 GF/G (24th)  3.26 GA/G (23rd)

46.0 CF% (30th)  47.1 xGF% (24th)

19.4 PP% (17th)  78.2 PK% (27th)

Goalies: Whatever excitement is surrounding the Rangers has to be tempered by questions about how much Henrik Lundqvist has left. He will turn 38 at the end of the season, and his .907 SV% last year was the worst mark of his career. The year before he was at .915, which would probably be good enough for the Rangers team to take a step forward. His Vezina-contending days are almost certainly over, so the Rangers have to calibrate if he can just be league average or a tick above. This was not a good team in front of him, and he saw a ton of rubber, but Lundqvist is going to have to be better if the Rangers are going to turn things around.

If he doesn’t, it’s going to back David Quinn into a corner, as he’ll be the first coach to have to deal with whether or not to cede some of King Henrik’s starts to a kid. Alexander Georgiev was pretty good last year at .914. There is some hope that he can take over when Lundqvist decides to move on, but the Rangers and Quinn in particular do not want the headache of expediting that process. Henrik isn’t the type to cause a stir, but his position has also never been under question.

Defense: The big splash was trading for Jacob Trouba in the offseason. Trouba seemed to shrink from a top pairing role on a genuine Cup contender in Winnipeg, though some of that could be attributed to hating the city and coach he played for. This is where Trouba wants to be, and he certainly has the capability of being a top-pairing guy, certainly more than anyone else here.

The Rangers blue line is starting to skew pretty young, with Adam Fox, Libor Hajek, and Brady Skjei all poised for roles on this team. The hope would be they can start to steal minutes from Marc Staal, who is absolute toast these days, and Brendan Smith, who remains the worst player in the league. Anthony DeAngelo still needs re-signing, but he would be more youthful zest on this team, and would make the Rangers pretty dynamic going forward along the blue line. The question is if any of these guys can play defense, and no one has the answer for that one.

Forwards: It’s not often you can add two-thirds of a real top line in the NHL, but that was the summer for the Rangers. They signed Artemi Panarin and got to draft (Boers voice) Kaapo Kakko. There are your wingers on the top of the roster for years. Do they have a center to play between them? Mika Zibanejad is going to get a shot, and there have been times in the past when he’s flashed that capability. He had 74 points last year playing with nothing like Kakko and Panarin. That bumps Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich to the second line, where they almost certainly belong. That is until Kreider is traded, which most in the know on Broadway seem to think is an inevitability. It’s after that where things get icky.

Ryan Strome is the wrong Strome. Vladimir Namestnikov has yet to prove to be much of anything other than a guy in both New York and Tampa. Filip Chytil has a lot of growing to do. Matt Beleskey is here, which is always an indication that your forwards have been hauled out of the back of the storage room. One line and two thirds of another one is not really enough to be a playoff team. They will hope Lias Andersson helps out with this, but is that enough?

Prediction: There is enough here to be way better than 78 points. But way better can be 88 points, which won’t be close to a playoff team. Even with the additions of Panarin and Kakko, there doesn’t feel like there’s enough scoring here, especially if Kreider is going in midseason (depending on return). The defense has a chance to be really exciting, in both senses of the word. They can’t say the goalie is a sure thing either, given Henrik’s age and creakiness. There is a lot of hope and anticipation here, but that doesn’t mean it translates into an avalanche of points. They’ll make a run at a playoff spot, but probably run out of gas in March and come up comfortably short. But with another move or two after that, they’re set up to be a real thing quite soon.

Everything Else

As we idle away waiting for Game 7, and really the offseason when the Hawks will be involved again, it’s probably time to cycle through some possible targets the Hawks could trade for. There will be time to discuss free agents, the draft as well, but we know a lot of deals happen between the end of the Final and draft day, and really right up until July 1st. With the free agent market being pretty damn thin, the Hawks are likely going to have to work out an exchange with someone if they want to upgrade either the defense or top six.

So let’s start with probably the best d-man available via trade, Jacob Trouba (unless Carolina gives up on Dougie, but we don’t know that they will).

Trouba is an RFA this summer, which means you could simply offer sheet him and just give up the draft picks. That runs the risk of the Jets matching, a forfeiture of picks that is a tad heavy, as well as breaking the NHL’s unwritten “no offer sheets” rule. So it’s more likely you’d have to work out a straight trade for his rights.

To some, it may be curious why the Jets would be giving up on their top-pairing d-man, and they certainly don’t have to do anything given his restricted status. But the Jets and Trouba have been at odds for years, and it’s hardly a secret that he wants out and has for some time. And the Jets, after a pretty sad first-round flameout are eager to make some changes, and probably want to keep a large chunk of the $25 mildo in space they have for Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor and maybe some new blood. Something is amiss up there (it’s behind the bench but they seem determined to ignore that), and the Jets will try and address it. They very well may start with clearing out a malcontent.

So the next question is what is Jacob Trouba? Well, he’s big at 6-3, but he’s mobile as well. There is a snarl to his game, or there can be. He took the hard shifts, along with Josh Morrissey, for the past few years, freeing up Dustin Byfuglien to do whatever it is he does, when he could be bothered to be healthy and not straining himself at Timbo’s. The last three years, Trouba has started about half of his shifts in the defensive zone

So with the unsheltered zone starts and the toughest competition, it puts something of a thin layer of gloss to his generally team-rate metrics. Trouba has always been just a tick ahead of the team rate when it comes to attempts and expected goals, and is just a year removed from a dominant year in expected goals relative to the rest of the Jets (+5.07).

Trouba is coming off something of an offensive explosion, setting a career-high in points with 50, 17 more than his previous high. Most of that can be attributed to far more power play time thanks to Byfuglien’s needing time with a wash cloth on a stick, and you can bank a lot of points on the man advantage simply being out there with Wheeler, Scheifele, and Laine. Clearly, Trouba wouldn’t get that here but he also wouldn’t be following a bunch of dolts on the power play either. Assuming he could get on it, which seems far fetched thanks to the presence of Messrs. Gustafsson, Keith, and Seabrook.

The other factor is that Trouba is right-handed, and balked in the past when the Jets tried to kick him over to the left side. The Hawks seem to be collecting right-shooting d-men, and just on the team next year you’d have Seabrook, Jokiharju, and Murphy. The latter two have shown they can play the left side if need be, but one wonders how much you want to go to that well.

Still, something seemed off with Trouba during the playoffs and most of the year. Maybe it was just the misery of the Jets, but at times when you’ve wanted him to dominate playoff games, it just hasn’t quite been there. That said, Trouba was excellent in the playoffs just a year ago when the Jets made their only run, so it’s in him, it’s just not always apparent.

Another question about Trouba is what kind of surcharge the Jets would slap on him to trade him within the division, and whether he is worth it. The Jets and Trouba clearly want to be done with each other, but there won’t be a shortage of suitors and the Jets would almost certainly prefer to get him somewhere where they don’t have to deal with him five times a year. It doesn’t always work out that way, but clearly the Hawks offer would have to best the second-best one by a distance.

What the Jets would be looking for is another question. They don’t really need another forward, though it probably can’t hurt. Trouba’s absence would have to be accounted for, especially as Byfuglien is getting fucking old. Selling them on just the Hawks defensive prospects is a stretch to be sure. Perhaps you could sell them on Gustafsson’s ridiculously low contract for a year and insurance that they would have a PP QB whenever Buff pulls another section of fat. But the Hawks seem to treat Gus like he’s found gold or that check that Ricky Henderson framed instead of depositing.

The bottom line is that Trouba is an improvement on what the Hawks have, and by a distance. He’s idealized Murphy, in that he’s not a puck-mover per se but he’s also not simply a road grater. He can get your team up the ice through passing and breaking up plays instead of his feet, but you’d want to pair him with another mobile d-man who can use his feet on the other side. The Hawks don’t have that right now, though they probably think it’s still Keith if just in the right spot.

It’s hard to believe but Trouba is still only 25, so some sort of long-term commitment is unlikely to bite you in the ass until very well down the road. He’s not everything the Hawks need, but he’s a lot of it. The problem is the Jets are going to be asking for the moon and they just might get it. Saad and a prospect and a second-round pick might not even be enough, and I can’t see the Hawks wanting to go much further than that. Especially as the Jets don’t really need Saad and the prospect almost certainly wouldn’t help them this year and the Jets are very much in their window.

It’s a long-shot, but one worth considering.

Everything Else

The Jets are a weird team, and we don’t just say that because they play in a barren husk of a province filled with frozen brains and an outsized chip on their shoulder (which just might be ice but we’ll study that later on). You think of the Jets as an offensive force, with four lines filled with speedy frost-giants that never stop. You know about Laine, Wheeler, Scheifele, Connor, Ehlers, Perreault, and a few more weapons on any given night. You just assume they dominate every game on the metric-sheets like San Jose or Tampa or Vegas or the like. But the thing is…they’re kind of not?

Dustin Byfuglien is also so stranger to the weirdness. You think of Buff, you think of the booming shot and the senseless/ridiculous/unhinged charges up the ice. You think of defensive laziness if not utter unawareness or complete indifference. You think of (often dirty) big hits (to players already down and not looking at him). You don’t really think of him as the key log to the entire system. But he might be?

Byfuglien has missed 40 games this season, returning on Saturday for the first time since the second week of February. Which means the Jets have played just about as many games with Dat Big Buck Guy in the lineup as without. And the difference is kind of clear.

Before Buff went down for the first time on December 30th (he would return in February for a few games before hitting a rather large ice tub again), the Jets were sort of what you think of. They were 12th in the league in attempts for per game, 14th in shots, 15th in scoring chances, and oddly 21st in high-danger chances. They were 20th in shooting-percentage, which didn’t seem to handicap them too much as they were 24-12-2. The Jets don’t need to dominate possession to score more than you, because of how much scoring they have.

Since that date, basically without Buff the whole time, the Jets are 25th in attempts for per game, 26th in shots, second to last in scoring chances, and 29th in high danger chances. The only thing that’s kept it from being nearly a total disaster is that the Jets have shot 9.7% as a team and they’ve gotten 92% of the saves at evens.

But what’s even more strange, downright world-view-shattering, is that the Jets have been so much worse defensively without Byfuglien. Before he went down, the Jets ranked 13th in attempts against per 60 minutes at even-strength, 18th in shots against, 10th in scoring chances against, and 12th in high danger chances against.

Since Buff’s injury problems, all their rankings have plummeted. Their attempts against have gone up five per 60 (ranking 29th), shots up 3.7 per game (29th), scoring chances have gone up three per game (21st), and high danger chances against went up one per game (17th). Considering Buff has no interest in being in his own zone and meanders around when he is as if he’s rooting for truffles, it seems totally inexplicable that the Jets would get so much worse defensively without him. But that’s the case.

What Buff does do is keep the Jets out of their zone. He’s their only-puck mover, and gets it up to the forwards better than anyone else on the roster, before of course fleeing up to join them like he was trying to cross No Man’s Land behind Diana Prince. Jacob Trouba is not that. Tyler Myers thinks he is but is just all-around helpless and dumb. It’s not really Josh Morrissey either. Buff aids the defense by making sure the Jets play it less.

Which is a problem going forward. The Preds are enough of a challenge, though their problems are at forward so it makes for a nice yin-yang matchup. But anyone who comes out of the Pacific is loaded with firepower, and if the Jets continue their considerate ways when it comes to doling out shots and chances, they’ll probably get lit up in the conference final again. Which means there’s a lot riding on Byfuglien. Fat jokes aside, that’s a lot to ask of one dude.

 

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It’s hard to have a contending team in this age of the NHL without the accompanying panic over future salary cap problems. Every year you don’t get the parade, as the Jets did not last year when they were more than good enough, the fear grows that financial obligations will keep you from getting one at all. You don’t get that many rolls of the dice, and everyone is watching the big money-ticker.

Which leaves the Jets in something of a sore spot with Jacob Trouba. He has been their top-pairing defenseman for years now, in that he takes the toughest assignments and the hardest shifts. While Dustin Byfuglien gets the headlines and the points, it’s Trouba that the Jets have decided to make the foundation, at least on the back end.

Trouba will also be a restricted free agent after the season, This will be the third time that Trouba has entered restricted free agency, and previous negotiations have not always been cordial. His deal before this one was actually signed during the season, as negotiations dragged out past training camp. Trouba is probably in no mood to cut the Jets some slack, and his desire to remain in Winnipeg long-term has always been a doubt. But then…who among us?

And that’s where things get a touch tricky. After the season, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are out of their entry-level deals. Laine especially is going to command $10M plus, or so you’d think. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be around McDavid money after his entry-level deal expired. And players may be more inclined to take the William Nylander route than they were before. Connor will not come cheap either, as he’s likely to be coming off back-to-back 30-goal seasons.

The Jets will have $27 million or so in space, so it would seem possible to keep everyone, at least for a short time. But if the three big draws all come back for what you’d figure, that won’t leave a lot of room for role players like Brandon Tanev, Nic Petan or Brendan Lemieux, or Ben Chiarot. And depth is what makes the Jets what they are, or at least it’s a big reason.

Which makes what the Jets judge Trouba at so curious. He’s not a dynamic scorer from the back end. He doesn’t really drive the play, so much as ride along with it. He’s not Subban or Karlsson or Doughty back there. That doesn’t mean he isn’t vital, but if he’s looking for major dollars, that will be the first cudgel the Jets go to in talks.

Another thing the Jets might look at is that in last year’s playoffs, Trouba really struggled with the Knights. The whole team did, to be fair, but throwing up 40% CF%s in the biggest games in franchise history is an odd way of demonstrating you’re the key log in future Cup runs. That was only one spring, and perhaps this one Trouba turns that around.

So what do you value Trouba at? Again, he’s restricted, and we know that no one is going to come with an offer sheet (though the Hawks may want to seriously think about it). If you’re looking at the highest-paid defensemen in the league, all of them score and produce offense. Ryan Suter is ninth on the list now, and though he doesn’t score like he used to, he did when he signed that deal. You have to get to Marc-Eduoard Vlasic’s $7M per year deal to find a player similar in style. Do the Jets fancy Trouba to be that?

Troubs might, which would leave $20M for whatever else the Jets want to do. And they may only get it for one year. Given how things have gone between the two camps, Trouba for sure wants to test what unrestricted free agency looks like. Or he’s going to ask the Jets to make it worth his while to forego that chance for a few years.

A lot is going to pivot on what the Jets and Trouba do in the playoffs. And with every success and dominant performance, it may actually get worse for the Jets.

 

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Derek Gagnon is a contributor at ArcticIce.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekGagnon1.

Overhanging the Jets season is a sort of “Cap-ocalypse” in the summer. Does this season have a feeling of now or never?
Not so much, though there is a feeling that this group will see some change next year. This team is still young, and players like Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine should only improve as time goes by. The way things are going, the Jets should be a contender for a number of years to come.
With the cap going to $83 million or so, the Jets have something around $27 million in space now, with Trouba, Laine, Connor seemingly the must-keeps, along with a few other free agents. It seems doable, Is it?
I think it’s doable, though some sacrifices will have to be made along the way. Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor look to be Jets long term, and will get paid handsomely on their next contracts. There are some questions on defense though. The Jacob Trouba contract situation has been a concern for years, and with only one more season of restricted-free agent status left after this season, if they aren’t able to sign him long term it may be time to move him in the off-season. Tyler Myers is another situation that needs addressing. He’s being paid $5.5 million  this year to play third pairing minutes, and not play them overly well. As an unrestricted free agent, I would expect the Jets to cut ties, but they may not if the Trouba contract isn’t long-term.

The cap being projected to go up to $83 million definitely works in the Jets favor, as that extra room will come in handy. Even then, it might mean more players on entry-level contracts on the team, rather than guys like Brandon Tanev. Mason Appleton and Kristian Vesalainen are a couple of names that could benefit from a cap crunch.

Why hasn’t Jack Roslovic popped more? Huge pedigree, big excitement, is it just the fourth line role he has right now?
Right now, I think it’s a combination of a lack of minutes and the insistence he play center, where he seems to be struggling. While dominant at the AHL level, it just hasn’t clicked at the NHL level yet. Things seemed to be progressing when he was briefly reunited with the former Manitoba Moose (AHL) line of Nic Petan, Roslovic and Mason Appleton, but Petan was dropped from the lineup in favor of Brendan Lemieux and there hasn’t been chemistry. Playing an average of 7:43 per night doesn’t help either.
Is there real worry about Connor Hellebuyck two months plus into the season? Or just negotiating the following season after playing deep into the playoffs for the first time and he’ll bounce back in plenty of time?
I think that it actually might be the change in pads that has plagued Connor Hellebuyck. The smaller chest protector seems to be taking some getting used to for Hellebuyck, which has seen more rebounds and the occasional tentative effort. I have full confidence that he will adapt and overcome, as he has exhibited his ability to be great at every level he has played at, including the NHL. His last three starts have been quite solid, stopping a combined 89 of 92 shots, so perhaps that corner has been turned.

 

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 @ 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Connecting Flights: Arctic Ice HockeyJets Nation

After getting their asses shellacked by a Vegas team that doesn’t even really have its shit together relative to how they played last year, the Hawks leave the frozen tundra of Chicago for…the frozen tundra of Winnipeg to face a Jets team with legit cup aspirations this year.

Everything Else

We mean, she could be. We’re not exactly sure. But no hockey fan ever is. Anyway, follow her @HappyCaraT.

The Jets sit at 28 points, fourth in the division at the time of writing but only two points off second, and which is a 104-point place. And yet it doesn’t feel like the Jets have truly fired yet. Is that a misconception? What’s been holding them back from a real nuclear run if not?

I recently saw a stat in 31 Thoughts about the Jets and the problem with them is they are not beating teams higher than them in the standings. They can beat up on the Ottawa Senators of the league, but struggle against the Nashville Predators. And their defence is a problem, but I will expand on that later.

Blake Wheeler only has four goals but 23 assists. When did he become Adam Oates?

Wheeler seems to be struggling this year; although I have not looked at his 5v5 stats lately. He is wonderful, but he has looked hurt to start the year and he also has struggled to push the play offensively. However, he is money on the power play with Patrik Laine and that is wonderful unto itself.

What is Jacob Trouba? We’ve always been fans but his playoffs last year were not impressive and the metrics aren’t always kind to him. Is Josh Morrissey the real keeper on the top pair?

I think Morrissey is the better player, but I have a lot of questions around Trouba in general. He was wonderful for a while, but I wonder if something is up there. I have not looked much into the top three defensemen on the Jets as the other three are of greater concern, but I wonder if it has to do with trying to do too much. That pairing gets taxed with a lot.

What’s up with Connor Hellebuyck’s struggles?

Ah Connor Hellebuyck. He plays behind Joe Morrow and Tyler Myers regularly. The Jets defence is seriously missing a third pair and even a number four defenseman. I think this affects Hellebuyck a lot as the defence is very scrammbly. They were not much better at the start of last year, but with the loss of Toby Enstrom to Sweden, the Jets are in a hard place on defence and it is showing with his results. That says, he also seems less set than last year. I dunno. I don’t get the Jets.

 

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There was a point last season where it seemed like the Jets had learned. With all their talent, and all their speed, they didn’t need to “assert” themselves every night with idiocy and dick-measuring. It helped lead to their best season, and within some rotten luck of the Stanley Cup Final. The Jets finished 16th in penalty minutes per game last year. That had broken a streak of three seasons under head coach Paul Maurice where the Jets had finished no lower than 6th in penalty minutes per game. They were playing the wrong games at the wrong times. They seemed to have figured that out.

Not so this year. The Jets lead the league in penalty minutes per game, and nine players have racked up 20 minutes or more so far. They’ve racked up five game -misconducts this year, tied for the lead with Vancouver. They’re second in majors.

Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, and Tyler Myers are the ones who seem to be most unable to get out of their own way, as their penalty-difference are worst on the team. They’re -7, -6. -6 respectively.

It would be infuriating to be a fan of the Jets and see them not want to remain at even-strength as much as they could. While they’re not the even-strength power they were last year, they’re among the bottom teams in drawing penalties and power play time. When you have Patrik Laine, you’d think you’d want to be setting him up in “the post” as often as damn possible on the man-advantage.

You could see this being a problem for the Jets down the road, where they’ll have to negotiate the Predators and possibly Sharks back-to-back, though the Predators aren’t clicking on the power play at the moment. You know what the Sharks man-advantage can do.

The Jets defense is not going to be ever be dominant. Trouba has regressed a touch, Byfuglien has only a tangental relationship with his own end. Tyler Myers just straight sucks. But it doesn’t have to be stupid. If it is, it’ll cost them just about everything.

 

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We wrap up our team previews with perhaps the class of the Central Division. There is no forward group you can love more than the Jets’. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re skilled, and when Paul Maurice finally woke up from his neanderthal nap last season and ceased to have the Jets be the dumbest team in the league and focused on merely skating every team out of their building and into the cold and unyielding Manitoba night, the Jets took off. Didn’t hurt that they finally got some goaltending, as Connor Hellebuyck finally lived up to the billing.

Sadly for the Jets, even though I will argue they were a superior team by some distance than Vegas last year, their seven-game Last Man Standing with the Preds left them softened up for the Knights. They may have outplayed Vegas in four or all five of those games, but Fleury was simply too much. It’s a fate they’ll look to avoid this time around, though it’ll most likely be an even more formidable Sharks team waiting should they escape the torture dungeon of the Central Division.

But they can do it. Let’s do it one last time before we kick this pig for real.

2017-2018: 52-20-10 114 points 277 GF 218 GA  51.5 CF% 52.7 xGF%  8.5 SH% .925 SV%

Goalies: When your goalie last year is 25 and coming off a Vezina-finalist run, there’s little reason to change much. Hellebuyck will look to back up his imperious season of last, and there’s really no reason to think he can’t back it up. His pedigree has always suggested this is what he should be, and the only fear would be fatigue. 67 games isn’ the heaviest load you’ll see, along with 17 playoff starts. He’d made 58 and 56 appearances in the seasons before though, either all in the AHL or splitting time between the bus-league and the plane-league. So it really shouldn’t be too much for him. Obviously, a lot hinges on Hellebuyck, because you can’t go anywhere with bad goaltending. The Jets know, they tried for like five seasons. Still, they’re one of the few teams in the league who can sleep pretty easy about their goaltending.

Laurent Brossoit, which is not a dessert, is going to back him up. Brossoit flashed being a competent goalie at this level in Edmonton two years ago, but with a bit more work last year he was terrible. Then again, being Cam Talbot‘s backup leads to a lot of nights staring at the lights contemplating what existence really means. Clearly, Hellebuyck’s health is paramount.

Defense: If there’s one minor complaint I would have about the Jets, is that their defense just quite isn’t there. It may improve a bit because Jacob Trouba is going to be in fuck-you-someone-will-pay-me mode all year, as he’s in the last year of his deal and previous negotiations with the Jets have been cantankerous. He’ll take on the hard stuff as usual with Josh Morrissey. Which leaves Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Chiarot to get cherry-er starts and opponents, which is a reason why Buff racks up the points he does. And yet you’ll never convince me. I know what the points say. I know what the underlying numbers say. I’ll always think Buff is just dumb and lazy enough to burn you in your own zone, and the only hits he looks for is when someone significantly smaller (which is just about everyone, to be fair) isn’t looking. And he’ll run out of position to get them. Against a fast team in a series this could be a problem, and it was something of one against Vegas but not Nashville.

The third pairing is rounded out by Dimitry Kulikov and Tyler Myers. This is where Myers should always be and Kulikov seems to take more shit than he deserves. Hmmm, wonder why that could be? Certainly not because he’s a good Ontario bo….oh, right.

Clearly, it’s not a bad unit. It’s good, even. Trouba might enter Norris discussion this year, though that would take a leap. It’s just not San Jose’s or Nashville’s. And maybe that’s fine. It was sort of last year.

Forwards: Whatever deficiencies there are are clearly made up by this group. It’s got front-line scoring in Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine and his bewildered face, and Kyle Connor hinted at being that last year as well. It’s got defensive solidity in Mathieu Perrault, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, and Brandon Tanev. Nikolai Ehlers is on the third line for fuck’s sake. Bryan Little has been underrated for so long. Jack Roslovic moves to center full-time. Kristian Vesalainen, their first-round pick last year who tore up the Finnish league at 18, joins the ranks now. It’s the best crop in the league. They’ll get you from everywhere. There’s not much more to say.

Outlook: Cup or bust, it’s that simple. As the game gets faster and teams move more and more away from asking their defensemen to do the pushing of the play, the Jets can get away with not having a blueblooded blue line. Because if they’re just getting the puck to these forwards as quickly as possible, they’re fine. More than fine. Sure, maybe some teams can throw out a top line better than the one the Jets have, though you can count them with Jason Pierre-Paul’s fingers. Maybe there are teams that can somewhat match the top six. But you can’t do that with the third line, much less the fourth. There’s just too much. Unless Hellebuyck backs up, you’ll probably find them in the West Final at worst again, But anything short of a parade on one of the three warm days Winnipeg has will be a failure.

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