The Winnipeg Jets ended Wednesday the same way they began, without a head coach. But that’s not to say it hasn’t been a potentially seismic day when it comes to the NHL team’s short- and long-term direction.
For starters, you can cross Florida off the ever-dwindling list of potential landing spots for Barry Trotz. The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers, still smarting from a second-round sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, stunned the hockey world when they pulled the plug on interim bench chief Andrew Brunette and hired Paul Maurice to be their new Leader.
Yes, the same Maurice who jumped ship here in River City last December, claiming exhaustion. Now, six months later, he’s bringing his talent to South Beach, where he’ll attempt to bring one of the league’s deepest rosters to the promised land.
My belief that Winnipeg and Trotz make a deal is stronger than ever with Florida out of the picture. It was the only club, given everything that had just been achieved, that I thought could ruin those plans. Now, with only the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks having vacancies, the path to Trotz seems clearer than ever.
However, that could ultimately end up being just one piece of an even bigger puzzle.
Someone with Maurice’s pedigree is going to have a major voice in shaping the rest of the coaching staff, and I’m hoping another familiar face or two, hello Jamie Kompon, will join him. But I’ll go a step further and suggest that the veteran coach will also have input on the Panthers’ roster, and that’s where things could get extremely interesting.
It’s no coincidence that moments after Maurice’s signing was announced, NHL insider Frank Seravalli released his update. daily showdown “trade bait” list. And making his debut, no less than No. 3, was none other than Jets captain Blake Wheeler trailing scoring studs Alex DeBrincat (Chicago) and Kevin Fiala (Minnesota Wild).
As Seravalli wrote, “Sources say the Jets have begun exploring the market and engaging with teams about moving Wheeler.” The 36-year-old future man, who has two years left on a contract that carries an $8.25 million salary-cap hit, currently has a full no-move clause in his contract that is set to expire in July. 1. At that point, the Minnesota product can provide a list of five teams it would accept a trade from, which is something Seravalli added Wheeler would be willing to consider “if it’s right for his family and his career.” ”
Could Wheeler, who has previously declared he would “walk through a wall” for Maurice, decide to join him for what would clearly be his best shot at an immediate Stanley Cup before his playing days are over? The interest would no doubt be mutual on the part of Maurice, who has made no secret of his affection for Wheeler.
Could (Blake) Wheeler, who has previously said he would “go through a wall” for Maurice, decide to join him for what would clearly represent his best shot at an immediate Stanley Cup before his playing days come to an end? ?
In fact, I sincerely believe that Maurice’s decision to resign on December 17 was influenced, at least partially, by something that happened a week earlier in Vancouver. Wheeler suffered a serious knee injury, one that would keep him out of the lineup for almost six weeks. Given his team’s patchy play and the impending absence of his captain, that might have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
A Wheeler trade would be tough. Winnipeg would likely have to withhold some salary and/or accept an inflated contract in return. Florida currently has very little wiggle room to work with. But we know that Panthers management appreciates the idea of veteran experience, as evidenced by the signing of grizzled Joe Thornton last year and the acquisition of Claude Giroux at the trade deadline. Both are pending UFAs that are not expected to be retained. Wheeler, for what it’s worth, also spends considerable time in the off-season with his family in the Sunshine State.
With 60 points in 65 games, he’s still a capable player and could help solidify a legitimate contender. But Wheeler’s salary cap is the biggest on the team, and using some of it to address other holes in the Jets’ roster could be a case of addition-and-subtraction, as the Jets try to quickly reshuffle on the fly and build around a core that includes the likes of Connor Hellebuyck, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Morrissey.
“Winnipeg is definitely willing to be creative in how they develop interest in Wheeler,” TSN member Darren Dreger said Wednesday. That could also mean a need to add sweetener to any trade, such as a bright young prospect.
Even if something doesn’t work out between Winnipeg and Florida, the fact that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is apparently open to the idea of moving Wheeler gives you an idea of how important he is this summer. The organization is thinking big, really, really big, after missing the playoffs for the seventh time in 11 years and failing to sell out a single game all season. They recognize a big shakeup is needed, and breaking the bank to land a future Hall of Famer like Trotz would be a step in that direction. But it would only be the beginning, rather than the end.
They (Jets) recognize that a big shakeup is needed, and breaking the bank to land a future Hall of Famer like (Barry) Trotz would be a step in that direction.
There’s also the matter of Mark Scheifele and a potential trade for the unhappy center. Suddenly, many eyes in the hockey world are focused on Winnipeg.
As for Maurice, I’m not sure he could have dreamed of a better scenario for his next job. Yes, the pressure is clearly going to mount, especially in an organization that just tied a can to the guy who led them to the NHL’s best regular-season record. But the potential reward is worth it.
Like everyone in his profession, Maurice has his strengths and weaknesses. He is an excellent communicator and motivator, one who works well with a veteran squad. But he can also be stubborn and loyal to a fault, and he has yet to win a Stanley Cup in his 24 years as a major league coach, with only one season in which his team surpassed 100 points. That would be the 2017-18 Jets, who reached the Western Conference Finals before being eliminated by Vegas in five games.
Maurice had a significant impact on this market and his sudden resignation took everyone by surprise. He also caused the winds of change to blow here. Wouldn’t it be something if Wednesday’s unexpected events regarding the former coach finally provided another big blast in True North’s direction?