Through the summer, we are going to take a more in-depth look at the roster moves made by the Colorado Avalanche and what to expect going into the new season. At the same time, we’ve decided to do the same for each of the teams that the Avalanche will be competing with in the Central Division. Tom has covered the St. Louis Blues. Cat has taken care of the Chicago Blackhawks. Now, it is time for the Western Conference Finalist Winnipeg Jets.
After years and years of terrible goaltending that led to criticism of underperforming players and an almost-fire coach, the former Atlanta Thrashers discovered a goalie in their system. They proceeded to use the phrase “goaltending fixes all problems” and ran with it in a season that led to the Western Conference Finals (before losing to the expansion team in the lowly Pacific).
Despite years of frustration, Paul Maurice still has his job. Despite years of doing nothing, Kevin Cheveldayoff (I had to Google his name, TBH) can boast that his inactivity was worth it. And after years of Ondrej Pavelec, the Winnipeg Jets are succeeding.
Wait, this is a Colorado Avalanche blog, the Jets being good is bad! Okay, how about if the Jets’ summer forced the team to take a step back whilst taking a high-risk bet that could prove pivotal to the fate of the Franchise. Sound better? Let’s get into it!
Dropping Steve Mason and Joel Armia
Before July 1st, the Winnipeg Jets were making moves to keep Paul Stastny, whom they acquired at the 2018 Trade Deadline from St. Louis. One of those moves was clearing the $4.1 million cap hit of Steve Mason. After back-to-back seasons of a sub-.910 save percentage, the Jets were lucky that he only had one year remaining. However, judging by their math, it wouldn’t allow them to keep a 53-point player coming off a nearly point-per-game playoffs making $7 million.
As a result, on June 30th, Mason and 25-year-old winger Joel Armia (plus a fourth-round pick in 2019 and a seventh in 2020) were shipped to the silly land known as Montreal. For the Canadiens, they were able to get a player they to believe to be young and with promise in Armia (who he is not), as well as utilize all the cap space Marc Bergevin was saving for John Tavares. Wonder how that worked out for them. The Habs bought out Mason to the tune of $1.367 million for two seasons and gave Armia $1.85 million days before his abitration date.
Oh, I forgot to mention that the Jets got 21-year-old defenseman Simon Bourque back in the trade. Who? Doesn’t matter. Three points in 46 AHL games last year frankly isn’t getting getting anyone excited at the moment. His moving provinces was a required consequence of selling Mason’s negative value if we’re all being honest with each other. However, if Bourque turns into an NHLer, this will become a pretty darn good swap with hindsight.
At the end of the day for the Jets, it was an opportunity to get rid of a bad and expensive goaltender from the roster, shed some cap space that can be used to woo Sastny or some of their pending RFA’s that will be wanting long-term deals, and to prove to the phone company that “Chevy’s” landline was working.
In terms of how it affects the Avs? Directly, not at all. Indirectly? We’ll get to that in the next section.
Losing Paul Stastny
After all that work to bring in a pinch hitter, the Jets went out on Free Agency day the next morning and whiffed on their big target; Stastny signed with the team that beat the Jets in the Western Conference Finals: The Vegas Golden Knights. At $6.5 million for three years for the 32-year-old, Stastny took a healthy contract to be the second-line center for what should be a playoff team in a weak division next year. Just watch them miss the playoffs now.
Stastny was a playoff rental to the Jets, he wasn’t there all season, only for a combined 30 games in the regular season and playoffs. Brian Little is a fine second-line center, especially behind a budding superstar in Mark Scheifele. Also, the Jets are hoping some of their young players like Jake Roslovic and Nic Petan can step up and produce in a middle-six role for the team.
In terms of how this all affects the Avalanche, it’s all dependent on several large unknowns. It’s unknown whether the magic of the Golden Knights only lasted for one season and Stastny’s contributions are all for nought. It’s unknown whether the two Jets prospects can actually stick in the NHL and contribute. People seem pretty high on Roslovic, so that should help.
The Jets split the season series with the Avalanche in the regular season with all games being played before Stastny joined the team. I think it’s safe to call this a zero sum for the Avs in terms of gaining an advantage or disadvantage with this outcome. It will, however, give the Jets some extra cap space in the near future so that they can keep all their young players. (Which is a con for the Avs, I guess).
Re-Signing Connor Hellebuyck and Jacob Trouba
The Jets made more signings than just these two — including Brandon Tanev, Tucker Poolman (heh), and Adam Lowry — but Hellebuyck and Trouba were the big ticket items that really move the needle for the Jets.
First, let’s talk about those Helle-bucks. Tired joke? I agree, but just this one time, please?
44 wins in 64 games, six shutouts, and a .924 save percentage in the regular season earned Hellebuyck a six-year, $6.167 million contract. When I forst looked at the contract, I got worried. For a non-goalie expert like myself, I looked at Hellebuyck’s previous years (.918 in 26 games two years ago, and .907 in 56 games last year) and thought that this past season wasn’t sustainable. However, after listening to Cat’s appearance on The Full 60 Podcast, I looked at some deeper stats out of Hellebuyck. For example, his quality start ratio was 60.9%, where anything higher than 60% is considered good and 53% is league average. The only goalies above him who played in a similar number of games are Pekka Rinne, John Gibson, and Devan Dubnyk. Per Corsica, Hellebuyck’sexpected save percentage was right around the rate he actually saved shots, and in general, there was nothing out of the ordinary and at risk of regressing and hurting Hellebuyck’s production next year.
Except one thing. Remember Cam Talbot? The Edmonton Oilers played him in 73 games (86 including the playoffs) and he pumped out a .919 save percentage in front of that team. The next year, Talbot showed fatigue in every part of his game and was only able to muster a .908 save percentage in 2017-18. His quality start percentage dropped from 58.9% to 47.8% between seasons. The 23rd ranked Oilers still somehow threw their starting goalie out for 67 games, but that’s besides the point. The point is what if Hellebuyck got burnt out? What if he wasn’t able to handle the workload required by a Western Conference contender and will drop his quality of play next year?
The Jets are making a bet that Hellebuyck is the real deal. They have committed to him for six years at a lot of money. If he regresses in anyway close to Talbot, the Jets are screwed.
Now, Jacob Trouba. The problem with this player isn’t that they signed him to a long-term contract, it’s that they didn’t. Trouba is one of
the best young a few really good right-handed defensemen still with team control. The problem is that said team control is running out. After requesting a trade prior to the 2016-17 season, the longest contract Trouba has signed in Winnipeg was his entry-level contract. He has since taken a two-year and now one-year contract from the Jets in his last two summers as an RFA.
Trouba quickly has only two more years of RFA control before he hits unrestricted free agency. Is Trouba playing the waiting game before he can cash in and leave the arctic? Or is he waiting for coach Maurice to have more than a 33-point season that includes power play and top competition minutes? At the end of the day, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers’ contracts are running out and Trouba not being locked up for a long time is an itch that might force “Chevy” to finally pay his phone bill and use it to trade the defenseman for someone with more control.
I tried to find a picture of Kevin Cheveldayoff on the phone but the SBN search literally came up short. Here’s a shrug instead:
Trouba, Patrik Laine, and Kyle Connor will all be up next summer. It will be mighty difficult for the Avalanche to beat the playoff champion in the Central if those three realize the payday they could see if their respective contract years had a few extra points next to their names.
All in all, the Jets will more than likely be a team ahead of the Avs in the standings. Their performace against the Avalanche and the teams fighting Colorado for the final few playoff spots in the West will play a part in determining who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t. The Jets and Avalanche will meet three times in the final month and a half of the regular season and five times overall. The Jets will also play the Minnesota Wild five times and the Dallas Stars four times throughout the year. Only time will tell what that extra game will do.