NHL.com is sitting down with newsmakers leading up to the 2020 NHL Draft on Oct. 6-7 and the NHL free agent signing period, which begins Oct. 9. Today, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff discusses the top issues for the Jets, including their approach to the draft and roster moves for next season.
The Winnipeg Jets have multiple roster needs to fill, spurring general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff into an active period of conversations and contract negotiations.
Ten players from Winnipeg’s roster this season are pending unrestricted free agents: forwards Cody Eakin, Nicholas Shore, Mark Letestu, Gabriel Bourque and Logan Shaw; and defensemen Dylan DeMelo, Dmitry Kulikov, Luca Sbisa, Nathan Beaulieu and Anthony Bitetto. The Jets also have four restricted free agents: forwards Jack Roslovic, Jansen Harkins and Mason Appleton, who is eligible for arbitration, and defenseman Sami Niku.
“There are lots of internal things we’re doing right now, having some conversations with our own UFAs,” Cheveldayoff said Friday. “In that regard, we’ve obviously been spending some time with our pro scouting staff, trying to prepare as best we can for free agency.”
The draft will be held virtually, with the first round Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 will be held Wednesday (11:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN). Free agency will begin two days later.
“This year, things are compressed,” Cheveldayoff said. “You’re going from the second day of the draft, day off and then to starting unrestricted free agency, so we’re expecting it to be a busy time.”
As evidence of that, later Friday it was announced the Jets agreed to terms with backup goalie Laurent Brossoit, an unrestricted free agent, on a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
The Jets (37-28-6, .563 points percentage) finished ninth in the Western Conference this season and lost in four games to the Calgary Flames in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Center Mark Scheifele, who scored 73 points (29 goals, 44 points) in 71 games, injured his leg in Game 1 and did not play again. Forward Patrick Laine (63 points; 28 goals, 35 assists in 68 games) injured his hand in that game and missed the rest of the postseason.
Winnipeg’s priorities will be adding defensemen and possibly a second-line center, because Cheveldayoff said the availability of veteran center Bryan Little remains unclear for next season, though a start date has yet to be announced. Little was limited to seven games this season.
Beyond looking at re-signing some of their pending free agents, the Jets are considering other moves. Cheveldayoff said that could mean trading players, including Laine, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft who has scored 138 goals in 305 games.
“We’re looking at all our options, including potentially trading different players,” he said when asked about recent reports that Laine could be traded.
Cheveldayoff discussed moving forward after the loss in the Qualifiers, weighing whether to trade Winnipeg’s first-round draft pick and much more in a Q&A with NHL.com:
As you’re trying to determine how to manage your roster going forward, how have you weighed the conclusion of last season, the loss in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to Calgary?
“It’s kind of hard to truly understand our group from the bubble. When you lose Mark Scheifele that early in the series and Patrik slightly later in that first game, it changed the complexion of things. Obviously, you’ve got to be able to get through injuries, but given our group, we stayed in the fight and we had to stay in the fight for the most part of the entire season. We couldn’t find a way to sustain those losses. Having said that, we’re very excited now having found out Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy (voted the best goalie in the NHL). That’s an extremely exciting thing for our organization and such a well-deserved honor for Connor. From where he came from, Day 2 of the draft that day in 2012 (fifth round, No. 130) and for us as an organization, we’re extremely proud of him.”
You have the No. 10 pick in the first round as well as selections in the second (No. 40), fifth (No. 133) and sixth (No. 164) rounds. Are you looking to add picks, or maybe move up or down in the first round?
“By virtue of the way things finished out, we ended up moving up a couple of picks for the first round, so I guess that’s fortunate. Having the ability to have a top-10 pick, well, there are some pretty good players there. I think that’s good. As far as an opportunity to move up, you have to have the currency and you have to have the strong desire. We’ll see at that point in time if there is anything there or not. And as far as moving back, again, you’ve got to feel comfortable and confident you’re going to get what you want. Those are the kinds of decisions you prepare for going into the draft, but you make those decisions as things unfold in front of you.”
It’s unclear when next season will begin. How much of that uncertainty affects what you’re doing in the next week or two?
“I don’t know [if] it’s so much the start of games or camps [that] is affecting us. But what is affecting my job right now is the certain landscape of the [NHL salary] cap. We know it’s going to be flat (at $81.5 million) this year … and then it’s kind of unknown beyond that. But we do know for the foreseeable future, that’s the environment we’re living in. And that has made for interesting times here right now.”
Have you made any progress talking to your own potential free agents?
“We’ve had some conversations and we’re still looking at the big picture for a lot of them, but we’ve had some constructive conversations with some of our free agent representatives.”