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The Top 4 Offseason Needs for the Winnipeg Jets….more

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Following a thrilling regular season in which the Winnipeg Jets finished with a remarkable 52-24-6 record, and a swift five-game Stanley Cup Playoff elimination, the Jets and their management group find themselves in an intriguing situation this offseason. If the team wants to go farther in the playoffs the next season, they have to take care of four obvious issues.

The top four right-handed defensemen are what the Winnipeg Jets most need.

The Jets’ defensive set-up helped them win the William M. Jennings Trophy and have the fewest goals against in the league this year (199). The Jets let up 28 goals in five games in the first round as a result of Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen dismantling that framework. Finding a defenseman to play in the top four, either to move Neal Pionk off of the second pairing or alongside Josh Morrissey on the top pairing, is their main need this offseason.

The Jets will need to look through the trade market this offseason for a top four defenseman since Pionk has struggled in a second-pairing position for the past two seasons and Dylan DeMelo’s fate as a pending unrestricted free agency (UFA) is uncertain.
The simplest way to get a top-four defender is to use Nikolaj Ehlers—who may be traded this summer—as trade bait. It makes sense to bring DeMelo back since he and Morrissey have a wonderful rapport on the top pairing. If they sign a top pairing defender, he could even be able to play a “shutdown” role in the second pairing.

The Jets’ most urgent need this offseason is to sign a top four defender, since Brenden Dillon’s future with the team is uncertain, Pionk will require a lower role next season, and the team was mostly ineffectual in the playoffs without Morrissey.

Cheveldayoff of the Jets must figure out how to effectively manage cap space.

The Jets will have $13.35 million in salary room to spend this summer, according CapFriendly. Sean Monahan, Tyler Toffoli, Laurent Brossoit, Colin Miller, DeMelo, and Dillon are among the pending UFAs. Cole Perfetti and David Gustafsson, who are pending restricted free agents (RFAs), will also require a new contract.

While it’s not reasonable to expect any of these players—aside from the RFAs—to return for the next season, the Jets should consider this summer if they can find a way to cut Nate Schmidt’s deal, which has one year left at $5.9 million. Pionk, who has $5.875 million left over for a single season, and Alex Iafallo, whose contract expires the next summer and is scheduled to make $4 million, are two more contenders to be transferred due to financial constraints.

One of the main priorities for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff this offseason is to move off of this money, as it would go a long way toward bringing back the long list of UFAs that the Jets are scheduled to negotiate with.

Having said that, regardless of the Jets’ salary cap, Toffoli and Brossoit have probably priced themselves out of Winnipeg and will almost surely receive increases from their existing contracts if they choose to sign elsewhere.

A Reliable Head Coach Who Will Elevate the Current Core

Who would you rather see: Todd Nelson, Dean Evason, Jay Woodcroft, Sheldon Keefe, or Craig Berube? The Jets must choose wisely from the several head coaching prospects available if they are to build on their success from the previous year. On May 6, Rick Bowness declared his retirement. Looking back on his two years in charge, he has set up the next head coach to build on the accomplishments he brought about.

By removing Blake Wheeler from the leadership and giving it to Adam Lowry, who had a great first season as the “C,” he completely changed the ethos of the squad. Additionally, he established a defensive framework that led to his star goalkeeper, Connor Hellebuyck, winning the Vezina Trophy and the Jennings Trophy.

Every player that replaces Bowness will join a team that consistently hopes to make the playoffs. The seven-year contracts that Scheifele and Hellebuyck have signed will begin to play out next season, so the next head coach of the Jets should have a long-term vision for the team. Either the following season or the one after, youth integration will occur, and this coach will need to be skilled at molding those younger players.

The Jets of 2025–2026 may have players like Brad Lambert, Elias Salomonsson, and Rutger McGroarty in key positions, and a coach who lacks faith in younger players might seriously impede their progress.

Identifying Immediate or Prolonged Stability at Second-Line Center

The Jets must establish consistency at second-line center. The first and third line center positions will be filled by Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry, respectively, while the second line position is still up in the air. After joining the Jets, Monahan, a 29-year-old center, scored 24 points in 33 games, but he only contributed one assist during the first round of play. Monahan’s deal may provide them with stability in the near term.

2022 first-round selection With the Manitoba Moose of the AHL, Lambert had an amazing season, leading the club in scoring with 55 points in 64 games. He was selected an AHL all-star and included on the AHL’s first team of All-Rookies. His development curve has taken a dramatic turn for the better after he was pushed into the middle to play center for the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) in 2022–2023. At the age of 20, he may be fighting for the second-line center position in training camp.

For the 2023–24 campaign, the Jets will need to find a second-line center option, whether it’s Vladislav Namestnikov, Monahan, Lambert, or another opportunity for Cole Perfetti.

If Lambert doesn’t get the job during training camp, Namestnikov, who spent the better part of three months in that capacity last season, may very well start as the starting second baseman. Although Lambert is a good short-term alternative, the Jets could once more be looking for a second-line center around the Trade Deadline if he isn’t prepared to take on that position at any time throughout the season.

The Jets organization and general manager Cheveldayoff have a lot of work ahead of them this offseason, including strengthening the blueline, controlling financial space, finding a capable head coach to back this core, and securing long-term stability at second-line center. It will be challenging to duplicate their regular season success from 2023–24, but if they can meet two or more of these requirements, they will position themselves to contend for the Central Division championship once more.

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