The Winnipeg Jets may not have been a playoff team in 2011-2012, but it's safe to say that they enjoyed a successful return to Winnipeg, playing in front of enthusiastic fans and staying in the playoff race late in the year.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at what could lay ahead for the Jets, a team that will rely on internal improvement and has a number of young players in position to make a bigger impact.
While the Jets have loads of cap room, it's not as though this summer is going to be spent dropping long-term deals on free agents; probably a smart approach given the shallow pool of high-end free agents available.
That doesn't mean there aren't moves to make, but the Jets have been insistent that they are building for the long-term and the way to do that is to develop talent from within.
What it does mean is that players like Evander Kane, Alexander Burmistrov, Zach Bogosian and Ondrej Pavelec are vital to the club's hopes, because they are the ones poised to improve most. Add in a few rookies, like Mark Scheifele and Paul Postma, that could earn opportunities and the Jets' long-term prospects appear to be favourable.
There are no sure things about developing NHL talent, but as the Jets accumulate more talent and develop their assets, there is a chance to establish a foundation around which the Jets can look to augment with pricier acquisitions when it makes sense. Right now, the 2012-2013 season appears to be one for development.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Kevin Cheveldayoff/Claude Noel
After starting the season with no goals and five assists through 14 games, Blake Wheeler took off, scoring 59 points in 66 games, leading the Jets in scoring while increasing his role, playing more than 21 minutes per game after the All-Star break.
Oddly enough, Wheeler finished with a career-high 64 points despite a career-low 17 goals. Now, the Jets need to see if the 25-year-old can continue at this level.
A 26-year-old captain who can be counted on to play every night and be productive, Andrew Ladd played all 82 games (he's missed one game in the last four seasons) and finished with 28 goals, one off his career-high from 2010-2011, while consistently playing against the best opposition.
Bryan Little led all Jets forwards in ice time (20:13 per game), but that's a reflection of their lack of elite centres more than Little's status as a bona fide number one pivot. He's scored 86 goals over the last four seasons, so he can make a valuable contribution, but without an increase in production, Little is more suited to a second-line centre role.
15 goals and 35 points represented Nik Antropov's fewest goals since 2005-2006 and points since 2006-2007. The lanky forward gets plenty of time at centre, even though he's never been good on faceoffs, but his role may continue to decrease as the Jets give their young forwards more time.
One of those young forwards that should take on a bigger role is Alexander Burmistrov, a 20-year-old who played both centre and wing and made some progress in his second season, finishing with a plus rating and handling more ice time. Heading into his third season, expectations should for more offensive production from Burmistrov.
Committing to two years of service from 31-year-old winger Antti Miettinen may have been unnecessary, especially since he played under 12 minutes per game, but he is versatile and capable of chipping in offensively, scoring at least 15 goals in each of the four seasons preceeding 2011-2012. Starting next season in the NHL, rather than the KHL, should get him off to a better start in a more established role.
The only member of the GST line to be signed for next season, Chris Thorburn adds toughness (he's fought 58 times in the last six seasons, according to www.hockeyfights.com) and can check in a limited role.
Evander Kane continues to make steady progress on his way to becoming one of the game's good young power forwards and he hit career-high with 30 goals and 57 points in his third season.
There was an oddity, however, in how last season started, with Kane playing sparingly and paired with teenage centre Mark Scheifele, who was sent back to junior. As a result, Kane actually played less (17:31) in his third season than he did in his second season (17:50), which doesn't necessarily seem to be the optimal usage for a player that has more offensive upside than most, if not all, Jets forwards.
While Eric Fehr is a restricted free agent, it's hard to imagine the Jets giving him a qualifying offer given the season he just went through. With four other unrestricted free agents, there will be some room for roster turnover. Prospects like Scheifele, Patrice Cormier and Carl Klingberg should have a shot and the Jets may elect for some lower tier free agent additions.
A complementary winger like Lee Stempniak and a banger like Manitoba native Cody McLeod are a couple of likely inexpensive options that shouldn't inhibit the development of the young players around which the Jets are building.
Free Agent Defence
||'11-'12 Cap Hit
While Dustin Byfuglien can be shaky in his own end, there are precious few defencemen that can match his offensive contributions.
Even though he played just 66 games last season, Byfuglien is tied with Ottawa's Erik Karlsson for the most goals by a defenceman over the last two seasons (32) and Karlsson is the only defenceman with more points in the last two years than Byfuglien's 106, so there's more good than bad in what he brings to the game.
Tobias Enstrom is an undersized, mobile puck-moving defenceman who missed 20 games with a broken collar bone and tied a career-low with 32 points, but when he's healthy, he has the ability to control the play for the Jets and led all Winnipeg defencemen in shot differential (plus-5.2 per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, www.behindthenet.ca).
There have been some bumps in the developmental path, but it appears that Zach Bogosian is on the right track. Bogosian has pretty much always played big minutes and faced tough competition, but he was more successful in that stopper role last season and finished with a career-high 30 points in 65 games.
Added on waivers from Columbus, Grant Clitsome has some offensive ability, putting up 39 points in 105 career games, but he's a 27-year-old who played a career-high 63 games last season, so he's most likely going to be competing for a regular spot in the lineup.
Ron Hainsey's offensive contributions have faded significantly, moving down steadily from 39 points in 2008-2009 to 10 points last season, but the veteran was also plus-9 in 56 games while facing difficult competition.
There were only three defencemen in the entire league with at least 180 hits and 180 blocked shots last season and Mark Stuart was one of them (the Rangers' Dan Girardi and the Oilers' Ladislav Smid were the others). He doesn't play huge minutes, but his rough-and-tumble presence is suited well to the third pair.
The Jets could add a veteran defenceman, but they might be just as inclined to give prospect Paul Postma an opportunity to see if he's ready for an NHL job.
Free Agent Goaltenders
||'11-'12 Cap Hit
24-year-old Ondrej Pavelec played a career-high 68 games last season, but his .906 save percentage was the lowest of any goaltender to play at least 60 games. His numbers also declined in the second half of the season, perhaps an indication that the 68-game workload was too much to ask.
The Jets need to know if Pavelec is going to provide a long-term solution in goal and while that's possible, it's also not a sure thing yet, either.
If Chris Mason departs as a free agent, the Jets can look to other veteran goaltenders that might be capable of taking 25 starts off of Pavelec's plate. Scott Clemmensen, Curtis Sanford or Jonas Gustavsson could be viable free agent options.
||23-40-63, +21, 47 GP
||St. John's (AHL)
||15-22-37, +2, 66 GP
||St. John's (AHL)
||13-31-44, -14, 56 GP
||35-29-64, +19, 46 GP
||St. John's (AHL)
||18-15-33, even, 56 GP
||St. John's (AHL)
||18-32-50, +11, 61 GP
||St. John's (AHL)
||8-23-31, +9, 72 GP
||12-25-37, +4, 36 GP
||2-34-36, +10, 61 GP
||12-26-38, +45, 66 GP
Mark Scheifele was a surprise pick, then earned a spot on the Jets' opening night roster, sticking around for seven games before returning to junior, where he performed well with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League. Scheifele has good size and with more strength may be ready for a full-time job with the Jets next season.
21-year-old winger Carl Klingberg had a solid, if unspectacular, first full season in North America, garnering a six-game look with the Jets. He may not have high-end offensive upside, but should develop into a steady two-way performer.
Skilled blueliner Paul Postma has 89 points in 125 AHL games over the last two season and there's little doubt that he has the puck skills to be a factor on an NHL power play. There have long been questions about whether the lanky defenceman is strong enough but, after three years in the AHL, he should get a long look with the Jets next season.
A fourth-round pick in 2010, Ivan Telegin has a chance to be a real value selection. He's tall, skilled and a good skater, so with time to fill out and get stronger, he may be able to translate his scoring in junior to the pro game in short order.
It hasn't been an easy road for Patrice Cormier, with suspensions and injuries eating into his playing time over the last three seasons, but the 22-year-old plays with an edge and fared well in a limited role in nine games with the Jets last season.
The leading scorer in St. John's last season, Spencer Machacek had a nice run late in the season with the Jets, scoring nine points with a plus-8 rating in 13 games. That would figure to give the 23-year-old a leg up on making the roster next season.
Zach Redmond is a skilled defenceman with good size and made a smooth transition to the pro game. Another year in the AHL wouldn't hurt, but Redmond could be worth a look at some point next season if the Jets have any openings.
A wrist injury cut his season short, but Adam Lowry is a winger with size, toughness and enough skill to score a point-per-game in the WHL. Another year in the Dub will give him a chance to build his offensive repertoire before he's a pro.
20-year-old Julian Melchiori is a 6-foot-4 stay-at-home defenceman who doesn't offer much offensively, but a couple of years in the AHL could give him an opportunity to develop into an NHL defenceman.
A plus-86 over the last two seasons in Tri-City, Zach Yuen was a third-round pick last summer and, while he may not have ideal size, he's a smart player who will have time to round out his game before he's ready to challenge for an NHL job.
The Jets also have prospects like defenceman Arturs Kulda, winger Jason Gregoire and goaltender Edward Pasquale, any of whom could warrant considering for a roster spot in the next couple seasons.
9th - Teuvo Teravainen, Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, Griffen Reinhart, Radek Faksa.
According to www.capgeek.com, the Jets have approximately $36.0M committed to the 2012-2013 salary cap for 13 players. Check out my potential 2012-2013 Jets roster on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Three top nine forwards, two defencemen, backup goaltender.
What I said the Jets needed last year: Two top nine forwards, depth forwards, depth defencemen.
They added: Kyle Wellwood, Tanner Glass, Eric Fehr, Randy Jones.
TRADE MARKET Nik Antropov, prospects.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.