On May 26, the NHL organized a plan listing what teams will face each other in the Stanley Cup play-ins, whenever those might begin. There are still details to work out, but step one has determined which teams will be pitted against each other in a best-of-five series. This week the NHL and the NHLPA also agreed on the format of the playoff rounds.
Item One: The Winnipeg Jets vs. the Calgary Flames
Here’s what we know about the Winnipeg Jets’ postseason. They will face the Calgary Flames in the play-ins, and the team to win three games will move onto the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Because both teams can ice highly-skilled offensive players, it’s hard to know if one has an edge. The Jets have the better goalie, the Flames have the better defense, and the Jets have the best set of forwards. It should be a fun series.
The teams were only separated by a single point when the NHL’s regular-season was suspended. The Flames held third place in the Pacific Division with a 36-27-7 record (in 70 games) and 79 points. The Jets had played one more game and had one more point, and held the first wild-card spot with a 37-28-6 record (in 71 games) and 80 points.
Item Two: The Jets Are Loaded with Finnish Talent
According to QuantHockey, there are 49 players from Finland playing in the NHL. Most teams don’t have two Finnish players but the Jets’ Patrik Laine has friends from home on his team.
Laine is happy because before the 2019 NHL Entry Draft the Jets signed an undrafted forward from Tampere, Finland, named Joona Luoto to a three-year, entry-level contract. Luoto’s a childhood friend from the same hometown as Laine – the Jets’ 2016 second overall pick. Laine recently noted how awesome it was to have Luoto with the team:
“He’s a really good friend of mine, one of my best friends. Obviously having him in Winnipeg it’s pretty sweet. For him, as well, he lived with me all of last year so it was a lot of fun. It’s always fun to have Finnish guys on the team.”
There are more Finnish players in the Jets’ pipeline. Last summer, during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, the Jets drafted 19-year-old Ville Heinola in the first round (20th overall) and 19-year-old Henri Nikkanen in the fourth round (113th overall). With so many young players from Finland in the organization, the Winnipeg media had a little fun and changed the name of the city from Winnipeg to Finnipeg.
Item Three: How Has Joona Luoto Played in North America?
Luoto started 2019-20 with the Jets’ AHL affiliate the Manitoba Moose but was called up to the big club during the season. He played 16 games before returning to the Moose for the rest of his shortened season. Sadly, he needed surgery for an undisclosed “upper-body” injury and missed the rest of the season.
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Luoto noted that playing in North America took getting used to: “There are so much bigger rinks in Europe that … it took me a while, but I think I’m getting better (at playing against the wall).”
He added, “You have to be ready to take those rims (around the wall) and be physical and be hard on the boards,” (from “Luoto catching up to smaller ice surface, Jason Bell, Winnipeg Free Press, 12/20/19).
Item Four: Will the Jets Sign a New Backup Goalie?
The Jets have a great goalie in Connor Hellebuyck. Although the 2019-20 season was tough for the Jets with so many injuries, Hellebuyck was probably the biggest reason the team was contending when the NHL suspended its season on March 12. His record was a strong 31-21-5 record, with a goals-against-average of 2.57 and .922 save percentage in 58 games.
Because Hellebuyck’s only 26 years old, his time as an elite performer is far from over. The question is who will be their backup goalie? This season’s backup, Laurent Brossoit will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after the 2019-20 season, (from “Backup goalie targets for the Jets in free agency or trade,” Ken Wiebe, The Athletic, 12/05/20).
During the offseason, will the Jets sign a goalie to compete for the backup position? That job, for the last two seasons, has been Brossoit’s, and he’s played well. Two seasons ago (2018-19), he had a strong 13-6-2 record with a goals-against-average of 2.52 and a 0.925 save percentage.
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Brossoit comes cheaply enough, signing a $1.225 million contract after his numbers were great. He slipped a bit in 2019-20, with a 6-7-1 record in 19 games and a save percentage of 0.895. Even if he moves to another team, he can’t expect much of a raise, if any, when he signs his next contract.
Ken Wiebe of The Athletic suggested the Jets might seek another backup goalie for next season. Although Brossoit might want to be on a team where he has a better chance to start, it’s unlikely other teams will consider him as a starting goalie.
The Jets have Eric Comrie signed to a one-way deal, but the 24-year-old (and the son of The Brick founder Bill Comrie and half-brother of former NHLer Mike Comrie) hasn’t shown anything that would lead fans to believe he’s better than Brossoit. Mikhail Berdin, a 22-year-old goalie prospect, is progressing well with the Moose but needs more seasoning to be NHL ready.
Wiebe listed trade targets such as Jake Allen (with one year left on his contract at $4.35 million) and Devan Dubnyk (another year left with a $4.33 million cap hit – $2.5 million in salary). He even suggested Cory Schneider, who’s signed at $6 million per season for two more years, but he is up and down between the New Jersey Devils and their Binghamton AHL affiliate.
Unless I’m missing something, I can’t see why the Jets would change their backup. Assuming the team can re-sign Brossoit to a cap-friendly single-season contract which, given the impact of COVID-19 seems reasonable, I think he might sign for the same money (or less) than he made this season. I expect an offseason where UFAs will sign any kind of contract and hope circumstances improve for 2021-22.
What’s Next for the Jets?
The Jets soon begin phase two of the team’s preparation for the postseason. We know Sami Niku and veteran Luca Sbisa are returning from injuries. Sadly, Bryan Little’s prognosis is less positive. His status is “uncertain” after he suffered an ear injury when he was hit on the side of the head with a puck. He’s been out of the action since early in November.
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It will be interesting to see how the Jets’ offensive firepower does against the Flames’ defense.