Friday’s game against Vancouver got off to a positive start for Jets captain Blake Wheeler as he picked up his first goal of the season. However, it ended on a much worse note as he left the game early with a lower-body injury and following the game, head coach Paul Maurice told reporters including Sportsnet’s Ken Wiebe that it’s not going to be a short-term issue:
It’s going to be a while. We’ll get him looked at tomorrow. I’m not a doctor, but it’s going to be a while.
We’ll get him healed up, we’ll find other players and we’ll find a way to do it without him.
Winnipeg isn’t scheduled to practice this weekend so a full update with an estimated timeline for Wheeler’s return won’t come until Monday at the earliest.
While the 35-year-old hadn’t scored until last night, he had still been one of their better point producers with his 16 assists leading the team. Wheeler has still logged heavy minutes – 19:24 per game which is more than a minute higher than last season – which will make replacing him a little more difficult.
The Jets have basically used all of their allowable LTIR for Bryan Little and have still only been able to carry a dozen forwards on the roster, three of which have an AAV at or below the league minimum. Assuming Wheeler will miss at least 10 games or 24 days, they’ll be able to add him to LTIR which will give them plenty of short-term cap space to recall a replacement forward. However, trading for one will be out of the question unless he was to be ruled out for the rest of the season as they’d have to get back into cap compliance before being able to activate Wheeler.
Winnipeg only has eight forwards on NHL contracts that aren’t up with the team already. The most promising of those is winger Cole Perfetti although he won’t be an option for a better part of a month following his loan to Team Canada for the World Juniors yesterday. Most of their other options are basically only fits for the fourth line so Wheeler’s absence will be a tough one to overcome for a Jets team that is in a very tight battle in the Central Division.