Postseason Postmortem: Winnipeg Jets

Credit: Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

The coroner is in. Let us sift through the unsalvageable wreck of the Winnipeg Jets.

The skinny: In the North Division second round matchup that nobody saw coming, the Jets were soundly swept out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens. There really isn’t much else to say other than that about this series, as it played out in dominating fashion with the Jets unable to do anything.

It was a strange sight to see a team that had played so well against the two top point-scorers in the entire NHL suddenly fall apart against a team they were expected to handle. Instead, the Canadiens were a riddle that Paul Maurice and company were unable to crack, as the Canadiens advanced to the semifinals. So what grounded the Jets this time around? It’s pretty simple to figure out…

Mark Scheifele: It was a bad hit that didn’t need to happen. With a minute remaining in Game 1 and Montreal’s Jake Evans barreling down the ice for an empty-net goal, Scheifele laid out Evans with a massive hit as he put the puck in the net. While the dirtiness of the hit was debated among fans, the Department of Player Safety ultimately punished Scheifele with a five-game suspension. It was a massive blow to the Jets, as Scheifele led the team with 63 points in the regular season and was a key contributor in Winnipeg’s first-round victory over Edmonton. What happened afterwards…

Offensive struggles: …was a complete disaster. The Jets struggled without their top point-producer, and the new line combinations were never able to build any chemistry. The Jets managed to land three goals on Carey Price and the Canadiens’ defense in Game 1; they scored the same number of goals in the last three games. Two of the Jets’ last three goals came from defenseman Logan Stanley, who had scored only once in 37 regular-season games. Leading goal-scorer Kyle Connor only landed one against the Canadiens. Big trade acquisition and playoff bubble star Pierre-Luc Dubois notched only one point. Nikolaj Ehlers and captain Blake Wheeler were held off the scoresheet entirely. Carey Price and the Canadiens stifled the Jets at nearly every turn, taking advantage of a Winnipeg squad that was thrown completely out of sync.

Defensive issues: In hindsight, it was never a matter of if the Jets’ blueline would let them down, but when. The answer was in this series, as the Canadiens repeatedly exploited the Jets where they were weakest. Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, and Artturi Lehkonen led the charge for the Habs, posting two goals apiece and combining for twelve points. The only two Jets defensemen that posted a plus +/- rating were Stanley and Jordie Benn; all other defensemen combined for a -12. It proved that the Jets need more on the back end and Connor Hellebuyck, as talented as he may be, can’t serve as the team’s only reliable line of defense.

The crystal ball: It’s become clear that the Jets have been caught relying on Hellebuyck to bail them out for far too long, and it’s now also clear that such a strategy fails at building a contender and, even if it works, the success is unsustainable. The team still hasn’t recovered since from the mass exodus of 2019, when Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers all left in varying fashions. They still had Josh Morrissey and landed Neal Pionk in the Trouba trade, but two reliable defensemen out of six is not going to work in the NHL. If Paul Maurice and Kevin Cheveldayoff want to stick around, landing another impact defenseman has to be THE top priority this offseason.

Stanley had an overall solid rookie season, and the likes of Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg are rising through the farm system, so it’s not as if the Jets have to throw all caution in the wind on this. The 17th overall pick the Jets have in this year’s draft could also be used to add another quality defensive prospect. With $20 million in cap space for next season, they could also afford to look into free agency or the trade market. Impact free agents like Dougie Hamilton, Adam Larsson, and David Savard would all make sense for the Jets. For trades, look for the Jets to be connected to the likes of Seth Jones, Matt Dumba, and Rasmus Ristolainen. Regardless of what approach the Jets take, landing at least one quality defenseman to join their ranks is a must if they hope to take the next step.

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