In 2015, “The Hockey News” magazine headlined a head scratcher of a cover story. It featured Mark Scheifele, Nik Ehlers and Jacob Trouba and included the caption “Meet your 2019 Stanley Cup Champions – Yes, we mean the Winnipeg Jets”. Don’t believe me? Here it is: https://www.google.ca/amp/s/www.si.com/hockey/.amp/news/meet-your-2019-stanley-cup-champsthe-winnipeg-jets
Unsurprisingly, the story worked Jets fans into a frenzy. The geographical Slurpee capital of the world might now conceivably hold 2 titles (Manitobans are quite fond of the Slurpee title – inexplicably). “Friendly” Manitoba was upgraded to jovial. The article’s premise was that despite the Jets being mired near the bottom of the league, the organization had drafted very well, and the future was bright – like ZZ Top levels of brightness.
News flash: “The Hockey News’” cheeky prediction proved incorrect. The 2019 Jets lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the St. Louis Blues. I posit however that the article was not entirely incorrect, but rather just premature. They picked the right team, but they picked them 3 years too early. My co-host questioned in his most recent article, “can Winnipeg can have nice things?” I say we can.
That’s right naysayers (which usually includes me), I am declaring that the Winnipeg Jets will win the Stanley Cup in 2022. Before friends and family have me checked for concussion symptoms – let’s break it down.
Deserved or not, we were a top 8 team in the NHL last year. This summer, the Jets had a number of holes to fill, and players to protect – all within the tumultuous confines of the Expansion Draft and free agency. What happened next was that “Hot Girl Summer” turned into “The Summer of Chevy”. The organization made more moves than an aging Lothario. In order of importance (please see Part 1 for a comprehensive breakdown):
- We didn’t resign Nate Thompson.
- To say the Jets were below average on defense last year is like saying Evander Kane needs a new accountant. It’s a gross understatement. What did the Jets do? Well, they brought in two top pairing D-men via trade. Welcome to the Winnipeg Jets Brenden Dillion and Nate Schmidt. Although Schmidt had a rough year in Vancouver, to be fair, so did everyone on the Canucks. Dillion is big, strong, and provides much needed grit on the blueline.
- Under limited cap space, both Neal Pionk and Andrew Copp were resigned. Pionk signed for a very reasonable 4 year/$24 million contract. For context, by many metrics, Dylan DeMelo was our best defenseman last year. It is conceivable now that he will be playing on the 3rd line with Logan Stanley. Copp signed for an under market $3.6 million for one year, and will then test the unrestricted free agency market. Copp could, and should supplement his salary with the no-brainer Tim Horton’s sponsorship (yes, that is a donut shop joke).
- We managed to protect both Logan Stanley and Dylan Demelo in the Expansion Draft. Call it luck, call it savvy, but the end result is that both players remain Winnipeg Jets.
As of this writing, we are currently $2.5 million over the salary cap (3rd in spending behind only Edmonton and Dallas). I like our odds against the Kraken this year because we bear likeness to drunken sailors. This might be splashing the pot, but the Jets went all in, and now, so am I.
I realize however that the math is not on my side. In the last 10 years, only 6 teams have won the Stanley Cup and each team mathematically has a 1 in 32 chance each year. To compound matters, our backup goaltending is a bit suspect; Pierre Luc-Dubois MUST regain the form that made him the 4th overall pick in 2016 (and get better tattoos); and and the Central Division will be one of the toughest in the league.
The emphasis on spending for blueliners is a philosophical departure for this management team. Currently only 54% of the Jets’ salary cap is being spent on forwards while our defense accounts for 31% (for reference, the breakdown last year was 63% and 21% respectively). Fun fact, the 2014 Blackhawks (57%) and the 2021 Tampa Bay Lightening (45%!) are the only recent Stanley Cup winners to have their defensive cap spend above 30%.
But, in all, the Jets have put together a very strong roster. Could I be drinking the Kool-Aid? Why not? Its refreshing and keeps me up at night – just like the Jets.
Dillon, Schmidt, Pionk, Stanley and Copp. There you have it – Stanley Copp.