- Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun examines some possible trade options for Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, calling him their biggest bargaining chip this summer. The veteran is about to enter the final year of his contract and has made it known that his desire is to win. If Winnipeg doesn’t think they can extend him in the coming weeks, they could look to move him in the days leading up to the draft later this month. Hellebuyck, who had a 2.49 GAA with a .920 SV% this season, has a $6.166MM AAV in the final year of his contract and is likely to command several million more on his next deal. Billeck highlights Los Angeles, Buffalo, and Ottawa as some potential landing spots for the 30-year-old.
Offseason Checklist: Winnipeg Jets
The offseason has arrived for all but the three teams that still have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup. It’s time to examine what those eliminated squads will need to accomplish over the coming months. Next up is a look at Winnipeg.
It was a rocky season for the Jets. At one point, they were atop the Central Division and rolling under new head coach Rick Bowness. By the end, they barely squeaked into the playoffs and went out quickly in the first round, earning a public rebuke from Bowness along the way. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has four prominent players on his roster that are or could be UFA-eligible in 2024. Not surprisingly, the bulk of their checklist revolves around those four players.
Let’s get one of those players out of the way first. Connor Hellebuyck has been Winnipeg’s MVP for several seasons now, often providing high-end goaltending to get or keep them in the playoff picture. He has done so on a team-friendly deal as well; while his $6.17MM is above the NHL average, he’s a goalie that has been well above league average. Next summer, he’ll become one of the top-paid netminders in the league. Will Winnipeg be the team to give it to him? At a minimum, Cheveldayoff needs to make a serious extension offer and then see what happens from there. If the 30-year-old balks at signing, then they’ll have to investigate moving him as well.
On top of that, the Jets also need a backup goalie for next season. As they’ve done in recent years, Winnipeg went for a lower-cost option this year in David Rittich who had a nice bounce-back campaign, posting a 2.68 GAA with a .901 SV% in 21 games. He’s earned a small raise so Winnipeg will either have to allocate more to their backup position or look for a new second-stringer. Also worth considering is that if they trade Hellebuyck, they’ll likely have to change gears and look for a more prominent backup. That could lend a pressure point to the Hellebuyck talks even though he isn’t eligible to sign until July 1st.
There’s also a longer-term element to consider. There is no high-end starter of the future in their system (although Domenic DiVincentiis had a strong year in the OHL) which is another pressure point on the Hellebuyck situation. If they don’t keep him, they don’t have anyone in the system close to being ready to step in. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them target a signed prospect goalie this summer and if they do move their star netminder, it’s quite likely that they’ll be showing interest in a strong prospect goaltender as part of the return package.
Decide On Dubois
Last summer, RFA center Pierre-Luc Dubois was the predominant storyline in Winnipeg among their players. He had indicated that his intention was not to sign a long-term deal with the team and there has been no shortage of speculation that Montreal would be where he would like to end up. Interestingly, he didn’t file for arbitration last summer, a move that likely cost him some money as he wound up accepting his $6MM qualifying offer. That means they get to go through this all over again this summer.
Dubois is once again arbitration-eligible but filing would lock in a contract date near the end of July once the hearing has concluded and the award has been issued, should it get that far. If his intention is to try to force a trade, he might opt to repeat what he did last summer, eschewing arbitration and waiting it out in the hopes that a move is made and he can potentially negotiate a long-term deal with the acquiring team.
But the Jets aren’t under any obligation to move him to his desired destination(s). They can opt to treat him like a typical rental player and even if teams believe Dubois will test the open market in 2024, Winnipeg should still get a good return if they opt to move him this summer, especially with a thin crop of available players this year. But that’s still an if. It’s possible that Cheveldayoff still hopes he can change Dubois’ mind and convince him that it’s worth staying in Winnipeg. It’s also quite possible that he opts to keep Dubois to start the season in the hopes of helping the Jets stay in the playoff picture and then pivots to a trade closer to the deadline if they’re not in the race. Again, in that scenario, he’d likely be the top middleman available and could bring back a strong return.
At the moment, it seems like the probable outcome with Dubois is that he gets moved. But when that happens is the decision that needs to be made. It could be dictated by what happens with their other 2024 UFAs which could ultimately make this a big summer of change in Winnipeg or more of the same.
Clear The Defensive Logjam
The Jets boast strong depth on the back end, one that has served well when injuries have arisen but also created some frustration with their younger players with both Logan Stanley and Ville Heinola making it known to management that if they’re not going to play with the Jets, that they wouldn’t mind being moved elsewhere. On top of that, they lost Johnathan Kovacevic to Montreal in training camp on waivers with the 25-year-old going on to play 77 games with the Canadiens this season. They also lost Leon Gawanke who opted to sign in Germany for next season (and well beyond) after his frustration at not getting a chance with the big club.
Nothing is set to change as things stand for next season as there are no pending unrestricted free agents on their back end while Stanley and Dylan Samberg need new deals as restricted free agents. Heinola is presently ninth on the depth chart with Declan Chisholm tenth and a pretty strong candidate to be claimed on waivers if he doesn’t crack the team out of training camp in the fall. Depth can be great to have but there can be too much of it, especially in the preseason when waivers really come into play. It appears that Winnipeg is going to be in that situation.
There are three defenders that are set to enter the final year of their respective deals. Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo will be unrestricted in 2024 while Kyle Capobianco will be a restricted free agent. One (or two) of those three being out of the picture would open up opportunities for their younger blueliners to step up and try to claim a full-time spot at a much cheaper price point compared to Dillon ($3.9MM) and DeMelo ($3MM). Winnipeg might also want to move Nate Schmidt but with two years left at just under $6MM, getting value for him would be difficult.
There should be a decent market for Dillon and/or DeMelo. Both are capable of logging nearly 20 minutes a night and killing penalties and in terms of market value, are on reasonable contracts. If another team is looking for one of those pieces but doesn’t want a long-term commitment that a free agent this summer would want, they’ll certainly be calling up Winnipeg. It might be in Cheveldayoff’s best interest to make a move on that front in the coming weeks.
Decisions On Other 2024 UFAs
We still haven’t covered all the 2024 UFAs of note that decisions will need to be made on. Top center Mark Scheifele is in that situation as well, as is former captain Blake Wheeler.
Scheifele posted a career-high 42 goals this season while reaching the 60-point mark for the eighth straight season. Quietly, he has the 14th-most points league-wide over that eight-year stretch. Fortunately for Winnipeg, he has produced most of that on what has been a very team-friendly deal, one that has carried a $6.125MM AAV for the last seven seasons with one more to go. For a top center, that’s well below market value. That will change next summer when he should have a chance to push for around $9.5MM (or more, depending on the cap increase) in free agency.
It’s likely that Winnipeg will try to re-sign him, even if some feel that they need to shake up their core somewhat. Simply put, letting a top middleman go isn’t a great way to try to win. But is Scheifele willing to extend right now? After the playoffs, he said it was too soon to think about his nearing free agency. The Jets will be pushing for a decision soon enough.
As for Wheeler, he’s at a different stage of his career; there isn’t a big next contract coming his way. He has been a fixture with this franchise for more than a decade and has been quite productive; in the last eight years, he’s 15th league-wide in scoring, one point behind Scheifele. The 36-year-old still had a reasonable 2022-23 campaign, notching 55 points.
However, it feels like his time with the team could be coming to an end. It was a bit surprising to see him stay after losing the captaincy although his $8.25MM AAV might have had something to do with that. But with one year remaining, it’s an easier contract to move while a buyout would free up $5.5MM on the cap for 2023-24 (while adding $2.75MM in dead space the following season). Cheveldayoff needs to decide if a fresh start for both sides is best and after teams do their summer spending, that contract will become quite difficult to move. Accordingly, this is a choice that will need to be made in the next few weeks.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Snapshots: Lehner, Hurricanes, Development Camp
In a piece from Vegas Hockey Now, Dan Kingerski raises an interesting question about the future between the pipes for the Vegas Golden Knights next season. Although it would be more financially feasible for the Golden Knights to retain Robin Lehner on LTIR, Kingerski asserts that Vegas may be better off buying out Lehner’s contract this summer.
The main point behind his reasoning is that with netminder Adin Hill eventually hitting the unrestricted free-agent market this offseason, having the cap space this summer to retain Hill may be Lehner’s undoing in Vegas. If the Golden Knights were to buy out the remaining 2-year, $10MM remaining on Lehner’s contract, Vegas would be hit with a $750K cap penalty next season, $2.25MM the following year, and $1.75 the next two years.
Obviously, the injury concerns surrounding Lehner are well known, as he missed the entirety of the 2022-23 regular season, and remains out during the Golden Knight’s playoff run. In his two full seasons in Vegas (subtracting the three regular-season games he played during the 2019-20 season following his trade from the Chicago Blackhawks), Lehner has posted a 36-21-4 record in 63 games played, garnering a .909 SV% and a 2.66 GAA.
Unfortunately, although the win record and GAA have both been positive for Lehner, the SV% has left a lot to be desired. On the other hand, Hill has been well above average since being acquired from the San Jose Sharks in late August of last year. In 27 games played for the Golden Knights this year, Hill posted a 16-7-1 record, accruing a .915 SV% and a 2.45 GAA. As both he, Jonathan Quick, and Laurent Brossoit enter unrestricted free agency this year, the potential Western Conference champions will have difficult choices to make in net this offseason.
- In an opinion piece from Ken Wiebe of Sportsnet, a hypothetical question is raised as to whether or not the Carolina Hurricanes and Winnipeg Jets would make an ideal trade fit this offseason. With plenty of buzz surrounding the potential rebuild of the Jets this summer, Wiebe questions whether Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck could be potential acquisitions for the Hurricanes. Both players will be pending unrestricted free agents after next season, and both players fit organizational needs at the moment. Martin Necas being the only true top-six center in the organization, and both Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta becoming UFA’s this summer, the Hurricanes could look to poach the Jets for resources.
- Mark Divver of the NHL reports that both Eric Parker and Ben Wozney from Bowling Green State University have received development camp invites from the Boston Bruins and Seattle Kraken, respectively. Parker appeared in eight games for Bowling Green, scoring one goal and three assists, as Wozney scored two goals and 13 assists over 36 games for the Falcons.
Minor Transactions: 05/23/23
Moves continue outside of the NHL sphere as the European transfer season progresses, although things should be winding down as teams continue to finalize their rosters for the 2023-24 campaign. As always, we’re keeping track of all today’s notable moves from outside the NHL right here.
- The DEL’s Nürnberg Ice Tigers have signed AHL forward Cole Maier to a one-year contract, per the team. Maier has played the last four seasons with the Manitoba Moose, affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets, but never received an NHL contract. He’s coming off back-to-back 15-goal seasons, even serving as an alternate captain for Manitoba in 2021-22. The 27-year-old will now try to work himself into a starring role in Germany with an NHL opportunity likely behind him.
- The AHL’s Utica Comets today signed forward Samuel Laberge to a one-year extension for 2023-24. The 26-year-old Québec product posted 16 points in 43 games with the Comets last year as he continues to try and earn an NHL deal with his parent club, the New Jersey Devils. Laberge, once the captain of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Océanic, now has nearly 200 games of AHL experience under his belt.
- 23-year-old center Sam Bitten has signed a one-year deal with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, joining his brother, William Bitten, who’s on an NHL contract with the St. Louis Blues. Sam has played the last three seasons in Europe after wrapping up his junior career, but recorded just one goal in 48 games with Czechia’s HC Plzen this season. He’s likely destined for an ECHL demotion come October.
This page will be updated throughout the day
List Of NHL Prospects Attending 2023 Memorial Cup
After the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and the QMJHL’s Québec Remparts took home their respective league championships yesterday, the field for the 2023 Memorial Cup is set. They’ll be joined by two WHL teams – the league champion Seattle Thunderbirds and the host team Kamloops Blazers – on their quest to capture the pinnacle of North American junior hockey.
Pitting best against best at the U21 level from across the continent, the tournament also gives NHL-drafted prospects an early taste of high-pressure hockey on a larger stage than regular junior play. If you’re looking to see your favorite team’s prospects have big performances at this tournament, which runs from May 26 to June 4, we’re providing a comprehensive list of NHL-affiliated prospects attending the tournament.
There will be a new champion this year after last year’s winner, the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, lost to the Gatineau Olympiques in five games in their first-round series in the QMJHL playoffs. Chicago and Dallas lead the way with three representatives at the tournament, while nine teams (Boston, Colorado, Detroit, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Tampa Bay) don’t have any prospects playing this year.
C Nathan Gaucher (Québec, 2022 22nd overall)
LD Olen Zellweger (Kamloops, 2021 34th overall)
RW Dylan Guenther (Seattle, 2021 9th overall)
LD Jérémy Langlois (Québec, 2022 94th overall)
RD Vsevolod Komarov (Québec, 2022 134th overall)
LW Lucas Ciona (Seattle, 2021 173rd overall)
C Justin Robidas (Québec, 2021 147th overall)
LD Kevin Korchinski (Seattle, 2022 7th overall)
LD Nolan Allan (Seattle, 2021 32nd overall)
C Colton Dach (Seattle, 2021 62nd overall)
Columbus Blue Jackets
LW James Malatesta (Québec, 2021 133rd overall)
C Logan Stankoven (Kamloops, 2021 47th overall)
RD Gavin White (Peterborough, 2022 115th overall)
RW Matthew Seminoff (Kamloops, 2022 179th overall)
Detroit Red Wings
LD Evan Nause (Québec, 2021 56th overall)
Los Angeles Kings
C Caedan Bankier (Kamloops, 2021 86th overall)
RD Kyle Masters (Kamloops, 2021 118th overall)
C Owen Beck (Peterborough, 2022 33rd overall)
C Jared Davidson (Seattle, 2022 130th overall)
LW Reid Schaefer (Seattle, 2022 32nd overall)
RD Luke Prokop (Seattle, 2020 73rd overall)
New Jersey Devils
RW Chase Stillman (Peterborough, 2021 29th overall)
New York Islanders
LW Daylan Kuefler (Kamloops, 2022 174th overall)
New York Rangers
LW Brennan Othmann (Peterborough, 2021 16th overall)
LD Brian Zanetti (Peterborough, 2021 110th overall)
C Jon-Randall Avon (Peterborough, undrafted)
San Jose Sharks
C Tucker Robertson (Peterborough, 2022 123rd overall)
St. Louis Blues
C Zachary Bolduc (Québec, 2021 17th overall)
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
C Fraser Minten (Kamloops, 2022 38th overall)
C Connor Lockhart (Peterborough, 2021 178th overall)
Vegas Golden Knights
C Jordan Gustafson (Seattle, 2022 79th overall)
RW Jakub Demek (Kamloops, 2021 128th overall)
C Ryan Hofer (Kamloops, 2022 181st overall)
C Brad Lambert (Seattle, 2022 30th overall)
NHL Announces 2023 Vezina Trophy Finalists
The NHL has announced the 2023 Vezina Trophy nominees. The award is given “to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position” and is voted on by the NHL general managers. Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers won the award last year becoming the ninth different winner in the past ten seasons.
This year the finalists for the award are Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets, Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins netminder Linus Ullmark.
Hellebuyck is looking to become just the second goalie in the last ten years to win two Vezina Trophies as the Jets netminder also picked up the award in 2020. Hellebuyck could have an interesting 12 months if he is able to grab another award for best netminder, the 29-year-old is entering the final year of his contract with the Jets and can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Hellebuyck posted elite numbers this past season in what was a bounce back season for the Michigan native after struggling in 2021-22. He posted a 37-25-2 record with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
Speaking of unrestricted free agency, Ilya Sorokin can also become a free agent in a year’s time as he is entering the final year of his three-year deal with the Islanders. Sorokin would no doubt love to pad his resume with a Vezina Trophy as he has been playing on a below market contract for the past two seasons. Sorokin posted terrific numbers this season with a sparkling .924 save percentage to go along with six shutouts and a 31-22-7 record.
Finally, the front runner must be Linus Ullmark. The Swedish netminder posted wild numbers this season as he backstopped the Boston Bruins to a historical regular season. Ullmark had a 40-6-1 record with a .938 save percentage and a 1.89 goals-against average. He also led the league in goals by a goaltender having potted a tally into an empty net in a game against the Vancouver Canucks. Ullmark became just the 13th goalie in NHL history to accomplish the feat.
The Vezina Trophy will be awarded in June at the NHL Awards ceremony in Nashville.
Leon Gawanke Signs Long-Term Deal In Germany
Winnipeg Jets prospect Leon Gawanke signed a four-year contract with Adler Mannheim in the German DEL, The Athletic’s Murat Ates reported on Wednesday. The deal comes after the 23-year-old defender spent the past four seasons playing in the AHL for the Manitoba Moose.
Gawanke was selected by the Jets in the fifth round, 136th overall, of the 2017 NHL Draft. He played some junior hockey in Germany before moving to North America to play for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the QMJHL in his draft year, 2016-17. Gawanke would then put up impressive numbers in juniors, tallying 57 points (17 goals, 40 assists) in 62 games in his final season with Cape Breton in 2018-19.
Since turning pro, Gawanke has played exclusively with the Moose, aside from a six-game loan to the DEL’s Eisbären Berlin in the COVID-affected 2020-21 season. He has shown flashes of his offensive potential in the AHL, recording 114 points (35 goals, 79 assists) across 207 games. However, his defensive game is still a work in progress, and he hasn’t received any NHL looks throughout his time in Manitoba.
Gawanke was a non-factor in five playoff games for the Moose this season, posting just one assist and a -5 rating. As a pending restricted free agent, the Jets now have the choice to issue Gawanke a qualifying offer to retain his NHL rights when his German contract expires in 2027. He’ll have just turned 28, making an NHL role seemingly unlikely.
Adler Mannheim is one of the most successful teams in the DEL, having won seven championships since the team’s inception in 1994, most recently in 2019. The club hopes that Gawanke can help them add to that total in the coming seasons as part of a defensive corps that includes multiple former NHLers in John Gilmour, Korbinian Holzer, and Jyrki Jokipakka.
Gawanke’s departure also means more opportunity for other Jets defense prospects at the AHL level, such as Tyler Bauer, Declan Chisholm, and Simon Lundmark.
Should Risk Of Injury In Walk Years Force Jets To Move Top Centers This Summer?
Jets centers Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois enter this summer with one year of team control remaining for each of them. Scheifele is under contract while Dubois has a final season of arbitration eligibility remaining. While it’s possible both could play on expiring deals next season, allowing GM Kevin Cheveldayoff more time to assess the future of his core, Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press suggests doing so would be tantamount to professional malpractice. Instead, he argues that the risk of them being injured in their walk years would be too great so if the middlemen aren’t willing to sign long-term with Winnipeg, moving them this summer would be the right approach, allowing them to get strong returns for each of them in the coming months.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby To Be Group 6 UFA
- While Gaudreau was locked up by his team, one play that is now eligible to hit the open market is Winnipeg Jets forward Alex Jonsson-Fjallby. As capfriendly.com reports, the 25 year old will become a Group 6 UFA because of his age, and career games played. Had the Swedish winger played 75 career games before the end of this season, he would have retained RFA status and remained property of the Jets. He finished this season with 74 career games played.
Winnipeg Jets Sign Nikita Chibrikov To Entry-Level Contract
The Winnipeg Jets signed forward Nikita Chibrikov to a three-year, entry-level contract Monday, per a team release. Chibrikov’s contract will begin in 2023-24 and carry a cap hit of $925,000. Chibrikov has also signed a professional tryout contract with the Jets’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, and he’ll join the team as they continue their play in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Winnipeg drafted Chibrikov, 20, with the 50th overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft. His development path since hasn’t been smooth, failing to secure extended playing time in any league in Russia. The constant shuttling between levels has stunted Chibrikov’s offensive development, with his point production today not dissimilar to his production during his draft year.
It makes the timing of the signing significant. With Chibrikov now under Winnipeg’s control, he’ll remain in North America next season and see extended time with the Moose, allowing him to play in an organization solely focused on his development.
He played most of this past season with Spartak Moskva in the KHL, recording just two points in 31 games with a very limited role. His game revolves around speed and skill, something he’ll have more opportunity to showcase with more minutes in the AHL.
Chibrikov will be a restricted free agent in 2026.