Keeping their cards close

Which Jet will be boarding a one-way ticket to Las Vegas?

Graphic by Kelly Campbell.

On Nov. 22, the NHL’s 31st team debuted its new name, and the Vegas Golden Knights will begin play in the 2017-18 NHL season. Now that the name is settled, all that is left is to figure out which players will fill the roster. The Golden Knights will participate in an expansion draft, where they will select a player from each of the current 30 NHL teams to build their opening day roster. They must select 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders. With another team entering the league, it affects all the current ones, including the Winnipeg Jets. They could potentially lose players such as Mathieu Perrault or Tyler Myers when the Golden Knights announce their roster on June 21, 2017.

Vegas does not get to select all the league’s superstars, as each team will submit a list of players they will be protecting in the draft. First and second year players are exempt from the draft, and players with no-trade or movement clauses are automatically protected unless willing to waive their clause.

Teams have two options of how many players they can protect. The first option is protecting a total of 11 players: seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. The second method is protecting nine players: eight skaters regardless of position, and one goalie.

Players across the league have been rumoured to be Golden Knights next season, specifically some big names in the crease. Marc-Andre Fleury has been the most common name floating around, due to Matt Murray taking over. Murray stole the show en route to a Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016. Another goalie that will be interesting to monitor is the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Ben Bishop. He may be unprotected due to the emergence of young Andrei Vasilevskiy, who could be seen as the team’s future goaltender.


How does this affect the Jets?

Exempt from the draft are rookies Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Josh Morrissey, due to not playing more than two full seasons. This rule also protects forward Nikolaj Ehlers (who has been a key piece to the Jets the past couple of years), forward Nic Petan, and AHL goaltender prospect Eric Comrie.

Winnipeg has four players with a no-trade clause, and one with a no-movement clause. Luckily for the Jets, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, and Bryan Little have a no-trade clause, but most likely would have been protected regardless. On the other hand, defenseman Tobias Enstrom has a no-movement clause, meaning if he doesn’t waive it, the Jets are forced to protect him.

With this in mind, Winnipeg will most likely go with the first option and protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie. They are only able to save one more blue liner, with Byfuglien and Enstrom already protected. Some fans may see this as a problem, as it means either Myers or recently re-signed Jacob Trouba will be exposed while Vegas is drafting its team, unless Enstrom waives the clause, or is traded this season.

Trouba is a big question mark moving forward, as he is fresh off signing his new two-year deal. Does Trouba want to be a Jet at the end of his contract? That is the question Jets management must figure out before protecting him. Myers has been a solid defender for the team since coming over from Buffalo in the Evander Kane blockbuster trade. If the Jets roll with Trouba, and Enstrom refuses to waive his no-movement clause, then Myers would be the odd one out, which would be a huge loss to the Jets. Trouba and Myers were key parts to the Jets blue line this past season, with Trouba leading the team with a plus-minus of plus 10, and Myers just behind him at a plus six.

Assuming the Jets decide to protect seven forwards, veterans Wheeler and Little will be automatically protected. An obvious player to protect is Mark Scheifele, who currently leads the team in points, and has become a true NHL number one centre. Adam Lowry is another player Winnipeg will strongly consider protecting. Lowry has been a consistent player for the Jets as of late: second on the team in faceoff percentage, trailing Little.

Joel Armia has emerged as a consistent top-nine forward and a major member of the team’s penalty kill, before sustaining an injury earlier this season. Those are five players most likely to be protected by the team, leaving just two spots open.

This leaves Drew Stafford, Andrew Copp, Marko Dano, and Perrault for these two spots. Stafford will be a free agent this offseason, and with the infusion of youth Winnipeg has, Stafford returning seems unlikely.

Perrault has one more year left on his current deal, so management must decide if they want to extend his term in Winnipeg, and also take into account how injury-prone he has been since signing with the squad.

Copp possesses the skill to be a third or fourth line centre in the NHL, and the Jets might see his potential as enough to keep him around. Lastly, Dano, who was acquired via the Andrew Ladd trade, has made the most of the injuries plaguing the Jets this season, scoring some goals in his NHL opportunity this year.

The Jets have a very young core, and when protecting players, you may see them protect some of their up and coming kids. Copp and Dano could possibly fill those final two spots, depending on what the team wants to do with Perrault. If they decide to leave him unprotected, he is a player that will draw a lot of interest from the Golden Knights.

The goaltending situation seems clear in Winnipeg, as the obvious choice is to protect Connor Hellebuyck who is currently manning the crease, and could be for a while. Hellebuyck led the team in save percentage (.918) and goals against average (2.34) in the 2015-16 season, while racking up 13 wins in his 26 games played. Michael Hutchinson just signed a two-year deal, short-term as he will be exposed come June 21. Hutchinson has proved to be a good backup option, with a .904 save percentage and 2.84 goals against average last season in his 30 games.

Ondrej Pavelec, the starting goalie for the Jets since returning to Winnipeg, was sent down to the Manitoba Moose this season, visibly ending his tenure as the Jets’ starter. Last season he played in 33 games, posting a team low .904 save percentage, and allowing 2.78 goals per game.

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have some decisions to make in terms of constructing the future Jets lineup. It begins with this year’s trade deadline, which could paint a clearer picture of who they will protect.