The Jets, like the Predators, had a strong season but a fairly underachieving playoffs run.
They entered the 2018-2019 season as the third-highest favorites to win the Stanley Cup, with better than 10-1 odds, according to OddsShark. They finished the regular season second in the Central Division, but collapsed under the streaking Blues in the first round (also losing in six games). We'll explore what went wrong, dive into the changes Winnipeg has made going into the new season, and pontificate on if they're actually having the worst offseason of anyone.
The Jets claimed the fourth-best power play percentage last season at a 24.8% conversion rate. The Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Patrik Laine power play tandem was extremely potent, accounting for around 61 percent of the team's total power play goals. Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien rounded out the unit- but therein lies the potential Achilles heel for the Jets' offense as a whole coming into this year.
Just Wednesday morning, SportsNet Canada reported that the 34-year old Byfuglien is seriously considering retiring from the NHL (Winnipeg announced that he was taking an official leave of absence on Friday). The loss of Byfuglien could do a number on the Jets' defensive corps. They already lost Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba in the offseason, and if Byfuglien ultimately decides to hang it up, they'll have lost all three of their top defensemen in one fell swoop. Byfgulien has skated in 56 games against the Preds as a member of both the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers and Blackhawks- where he won a Stanley Cup in 2010.
On June 17, the Jets traded Jacob Trouba to the Rangers for Neal Pionk and the 20th overall pick in the 2019 draft, with which they picked Finnish defenseman Ville Heinola. Sure, the Jets are stockpiling on defensive talent now, but it doesn't change the fact that they traded a 50-point, +37 career-rate Trouba for 26-point, -17 career-rate Pionk.
Among skaters who logged at least 1,000 minutes, Pionk came in at eighth-worst in the Corsi +/- category, tenth-worst in Points Per 60 Minutes (P/60), and fifth-worst in Game Score- meaning Pionk is effectively an anvil on skates and shows very little productivity during his ice time.
On top of that, they let Tyler Myers walk in free agency. Myers tied Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey last season in points (31) and was second only to Trouba in the team's defensive point shares. Myers also posted a +11 on-ice rating this past season.
One saving grace Winnipeg can claim on defense is the re-signing of Josh Morrissey for another eight years. In just three seasons playing in the NHL, Morrissey has accumulated 77 points and posted a career +30 rating. Luckily for the Preds, Morrissey has proven to be manageable; he only notched two points and a -2 rating in the 11 games he's played against them.
This is why the Jets' 2019-2020 season could hinge entirely on Byfuglien's decision; if he does retire, the defensive pairings will be varied between Morrissey, Pionk, Dmitry Kulikov, Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman, and possibly a rookie Heinola. Kulikov is a former first-round pick who's fallen to a career -54 rating and sat for 47 penalty minutes in the 57 games he played last year. Niku is still young, at 22, but is going to need another year or two before he can start logging more minutes at NHL speed. Poolman is in about the same situation as Niku, but played in 24 games with Winnipeg last season and only recorded two points.
Another debacle to add onto the Jets' crisis sandwich: they have yet to put a reasonable offer on the table for winger Patrik Laine, so he's getting reps in with Switzerland's SC Bern team as I write this. All the while, October is looming nearer and Laine is not playing in any preseason games with Winnipeg. In Laine's first two seasons in the NHL, he was the Jets' leading goal scorer. He had a very down year last season; he posted 50 points, but that's the lowest he's produced professionally. The worst part is that Laine finished with a -24 on-ice rating. Among skaters who logged at least 1,000 minutes, he ranked 17th-worst in the Corsi +/- category. The Jets are probably nervous about Laine's numbers last season and are offering him much less than what he (and his agent) perceive he's worth. If the Jets can re-sign him, keep this in mind- Laine seems to have Nashville's cheat codes. He's played in just 20 career games against the Preds (regular season and playoffs) and has racked up 13 points with a +9 rating.
I'm not saying the team is wrong in their thinking, but if I were the Jets, I'd rather carve out a slice of my $15.45 million in cap space (the second-most cap space in the league, according to CapFriendly, by the way) to sign Laine for a couple more precautionary years. As a Preds fan though... I've heard Switzerland is beautiful year-round.
In addition to a stalemate with Laine, the Jets are also holding out on re-signing stud forward Kyle Connor. Connor finished third behind Wheeler and Scheifele for the Jets' top point scorers, setting his career high at 66. The problem is that Connor, like Laine, also recorded a negative defensive year. Teams are lining up with offer sheets for Connor, but the Jets are likely aiming to match any offer and sign him long-term. They're just stuck on how many millions of dollars to shell out to him. Connor, even more so than Laine, has been an absolute devastation to the Preds. He's played 19 career games (regular season and playoffs, one fewer game than Laine) and has ripped through our defense for 18 points and a +6 rating. Assuming Winnipeg re-signs Connor, the Preds desperately need to find the holes he's slipping through to humiliate the defense.
Mark Scheifele may easily be one of the most underrated players in the NHL, let alone the Jets' lineup. Scheifele set his career record in points last season at 84 and was able to break through defenses for another career-record 335 total shots attempted (TSA). He was a weapon on the power play with 23 total PP points and 12 PP goals. Scheifele was ranked by NHL Network to be the ninth-best center in the league, and the way he's steadily increasing his production every year, he could easily climb a few pegs. Against the Preds, however, Scheifele has been held to just 17 career points and has recorded negative on-ice ratings the last two seasons.
Another forward the Preds should watch out for is winger Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers didn't have a as mind-boggling a 2018-2019 season as his 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 campaigns, mostly due to an upper-body injury he sustained in early January that caused him to miss 20 games. While he was out, though, Connor usurped his spot on the first line. Ehlers only has 10 career points against the Preds, but with him being bumped to the second line, he'll be opposite Laine on the wings.
Winnipeg's goaltending had kind of a rough go of it last season, specifically Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck recorded the most goals-against in the league at 179, and facing a league-leading 2,051 shots against. Most of that latter statistic can be chalked up to a poor defense (which again begs the question: why would they trade away their top three defensemen?), but as a Vezina-finalist for the 2017-2018 season you have to expect a little more. Hellebuyck has been solid in net against the Preds, with a career 8-5-1 record and .923 save percentage. The key to getting pucks past him is to get it to the front of the net and squeak it in through a screen; according to IcyData, this is where 42 percent of his allowed goals have originated from.
Depending on if the Jets' offseason fails to yield new contracts for Laine and Connor, the Preds could have a pretty easy time against them this year. But Connor will probably re-sign, so it is imperative that they figure out how he's annihilating us every time he steps on the ice.