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Trade Deadline Moves, Heinola, & Line Combinations


The Winnipeg Jets are fresh off of a huge 4-2 win on the road over the Central Division-leading Colorado Avalanche, which saw Kyle Connor score twice and Josh Morrissey net the game-winner in what was one of Winnipeg’s most complete performances of the 2023-24 campaign.

At 15-8-2, and exactly 25 games through the season, now is a perfect time to answer some hard-hitting questions from Jets fans on Twitter. You asked the questions, and I will answer them in this edition of the Jets monthly mailbag.

Is the Current Setup of the Top Two Lines Sustainable? – @BartelZach

This is a great question, and it’s one that I think Rick Bowness and the coaching staff will be considering for the coming months. As currently constructed, the top line features Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers, and the second line consists of Cole Perfetti, Gabe Vilardi, and Alex Iafallo.

According to Money Puck, the top line of Ehlers, Connor, and Scheifele is currently holding a 58.1 percent expected goals percentage. Their Corsi % is 56.9 percent, and they are outscoring their opponents 3-1 at even-strength. The eye test lines up with these impressive numbers, as the Jets’ top line has repeatedly generated chances off the rush and in the offensive zone.

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets
Rick Bowness, Head Coach of the Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Is it working right now? I’d say yes. Is it sustainable? I think there is a different answer there. The top-line trio of Connor, Scheifele, and Ehlers have been dynamic offensively, and out-chancing their opponents at even strength, but whether or not that will keep up is something to monitor. As for Iafallo, Perfetti, and Vilardi, it seems as though they lack chemistry and a “speedster” on that line, which sometimes limits their offensive upside.

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If the second line is able to establish chemistry together over the next couple of weeks, and the top line’s analytics continue to be above 50% in the major categories, I don’t see why it can’t be sustainable in the long run. These won’t be the lines for every game for the rest of the season, but at the absolute minimum, it’s a top-six combination that they know can work in a pinch.

What Type of Move Would You Like to See Done at the Trade Deadline? -@ShortLynxYT

In my opinion, if you take a look at the Jets’ current roster, they have two clear needs. One is the second-line centre position, which has been a healthy rotation of Perfetti, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Vilardi. If one of those players are able to win that job and be reliable enough come Trade Deadline season, then that need likely goes away. But for the time being, it’s a need nonetheless.

Related: Winnipeg Jets’ 3 Early-Season Trade Targets

Their other clear need, in my opinion, is a top-four right-handed defenceman. Dylan DeMelo and Neal Pionk are currently holding down those positions, and they have had solid seasons, but to compete against teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars, and Avalanche in a playoff series, I think they’ll need to bolster their back-end.

Immediately, the Calgary Flames come to mind as an option to fit both of those needs. Elias Lindholm would be a stellar option for the second-line centre position, and Chris Tanev would bolster the Jets’ defensive analytics on the top-pairing with Josh Morrissey.

Chris Tanev Calgary Flames
Chris Tanev, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A lot can change between now and the Trade Deadline, but if the Jets are looking to be aggressive, there will be plenty of options on the market to fill these needs. Last year, they traded for both Nino Niederreiter and Namestnikov, which have both turned out to be fantastic moves.

Related: 3 Takeaways from Jets’ Nino Niederreiter Extension

Options for trades will become more and more clear as we inch towards the deadline, as certain teams begin to fall out of a playoff position. If no play convincingly wins that second-line centre role that could be an interesting spot to look at, along with the reasons I mentioned to add a top-four defender.

With Ville Heinola Coming Back in about a month, What Do You Want the Jets to Do With the Defensive Log Jam? – @ArtticRunner3

The easy answer to this question is that we have another full month to assess the battle for the depth defensive positions. The tough answer looks at waiver eligibility, and the players in the race for these spots, and brings us to the conclusion that either Ville Heinola will carry on his season in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose, or someone has to be moved.

Nate Schmidt’s days as a Winnipeg Jet seem numbered, given he has been healthy scratched in three straight games for the likes of Logan Stanley and Declan Chisholm. However, having a team take on his $5.95 million per season contract would be a tough ask and one that is unlikely. That brings us to Chisholm and Stanley, who have both looked good at times, and both looked young and inexperienced at other times.

Ville Heinola Winnipeg Jets
Ville Heinola, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Stanley likely has more perceived value on the trade market, making him the option if they were to explore a trade. If they decide to bring Heinola up to play him in the NHL lineup, and try to send one of the defenders through waivers, Chisholm likely has a slightly higher chance of passing through.

Since the question is asking what I would do, it would be to start Heinola in the AHL for a few weeks before trading Stanley for an asset in return. There is a chance that Chisholm would get claimed with defensive injuries piling up around the league, and if they are to trade one of them, Stanley’s value on the open market is likely higher. Heinola would also be the sixth defenceman without a rotation once healthy, if it were up to me of course.

It’s a tough situation, but Heinola earned NHL action with his play in the preseason. A decision will have to be made and it does not have to be made for another month, but it seems most likely that Heinola will start his season in the AHL, and once he is healthy enough to move up to the NHL lineup, either Chisholm or Stanley will be traded or waived. A lot can change between now and then, so this is a question worth revisiting in the new year.

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