The fastest off-season ever is behind us. The regular-season opener is just a couple of weeks away. It’s an excellent time to talk about a season that promises to be very interesting for the Jets.
Interesting because it’s been a few years since Winnipeg was one of the most intriguing teams before the start of the championship. The almost complete retention of last year’s roster on the offensive end, the strengthening of the defence, and the youth’s progress make the team from Manitoba, an ironclad playoff contender for outside observers. Some are even willing to bet on Winnipeg as a division contender and a formidable fighter for the playoffs. To follow the successes of the NHL team, anyone can use https://bookmaker-ratings.com/news/ for news and betting tips.
All of that, of course, is very pleasing. But I think the enthusiasm of both the Jets fan base and simply those who empathize with the team should be tempered here. Managing expectations, primarily your own, before the season starts is a thankless task. But I’ll try to do it nonetheless.
Kopp and Pionk deals
For starters, a quick recap of the good things to the team. Kevin Cheveldayoff prudently didn’t delay signing restricted free agents until the fall, settling all his issues with Pionk and Kopp back in August.
Neal Pionk’s contract ($5.85 million for four years) looks pretty good, especially against the obscenely large deals other defensive players have been signing this offseason. When Pionk came to Winnipeg after the Trouba trade, pundits predicted a tough life for him in Manitoba, as he will be compared to the departed Jake all the time. Comparisons have been made, are being made, and will continue to be made, but it has to be said that right now, the association is in Neal’s favour, albeit by a slight margin.
Pionk has managed to do the almost impossible thing for a defenseman: move to Winnipeg and get better. Over the past two years, Neal has been by far the Jets’ best defensive player. And his progress has looked exceptionally bright against the failure of Josh Morrissey, with whom they are now on a similar salary cap. Being Winnipeg’s best defensive player isn’t much of a credit, you might say. Perhaps so, but even league-wide, Pionk’s statistical numbers are on par with a first-team defenseman.
The fact that Neal was able to negotiate a multi-year contract is undeniable luck for the general manager. A similar stunt with Andrew Kopp failed for a trivial reason: the Jets didn’t have enough room under the salary cap. Kopp picked a perfect time to have the best season of his career. For the stats he showed on the market, contracts started with number 5, and Winnipeg didn’t have that opportunity.
To avoid arbitration with an unpredictable possible amount, the player and the team agreed to a one-year contract (3.64 million) that suits both parties in the short term. The Jets retain a valuable asset for at least a season, while Kopp gets the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent as early as next summer. And then there’s the dilemma of what to do with Andrew as the season progresses: trade for at least something before the deadline, or keep with the risk of losing for free but not disrupting team chemistry. Knowing the team’s management, pundits can say that the second option seems the most likely.
An interesting decision to strengthen the attacking line was the signing of Evgeniy Svechnikov on a trial basis. I understand that Evgeny already has an actual contract. It’s just a training camp that will decide whether it will be a one-sided contract or whether it will be tailored for the far-right club. Svechnikov was once selected in the first round of the draft, he’s still only 25 years old, and I’d like to believe he hasn’t said his last word in the NHL yet. As a junior, he played in the same line as DuBois for Cape Breton, and they lit up quite well there.
Fans have been looking forward to the start of the season for a few years now to see what the current version of Winnipeg will look like on the ice. And even having Paul Maurice on the coaching bench can’t stop pundits from believing this team is capable of much.
Hopefully, this year’s expectations will at least be met, and the house of cards won’t fall apart. Still, it will come together into a fantastic solitaire of emotions, memorable moments, and perhaps some season-ending prizes.
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