I don’t know if making the playoffs did this team any good last season. They didn’t win a game against Anaheim and no significant moves were made during the off-season. From the looks of it, they could have done themselves (and their fans) better by missing the playoffs and shaking up the roster more. I know that Winnipeg fans were begging to see playoff hockey, but if simply making the playoffs is the ceiling for them, they’ll sell themselves short time after time.
While they didn’t totally sit on their hands during the summer, some minor additions were made on offense. Alex Burimstrov comes back to North America after spending two seasons in the KHL. But he’s a third-liner at best. Youngster Nikolaj Ehlers has an outside shot at making the team after scoring 100+ points the last two seasons in the QMJHL.
As for the rest of the forwards, they’ll be led by Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, and Drew Stafford. Stafford will be in his first full season in Winnipeg after coming over from Buffalo in the Evander Kane trade. Despite not bringing anyone new in, it means they’ll have increased chemistry and familiarity between Ladd, Wheeler and Bryan Little. If they aspire to be a better team in the playoffs, they have to be better than middle of the pack in goals-for and power play percentage.
On defense, they should be much improved compared to last year. Of the four players earning over $5 million this season, three are on defense. The combination of Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers is a solid defensive core. While they don’t have someone who is among the elite of NHL defensemen, they have better depth compared to most teams in the West.
In goal, it’s Ondrej Pavelec’s job. He had one of his best seasons as a professional last year, where he went from a question mark to a bona fide No. 1 goalie. While it was a surprise to some, it’s up to Pavelec to continue improving as a goalie and to step up his game. He’ll have Michael Hutchinson as a backup and top prospect Connor Hellebuyck waiting in the AHL should he go down with any injury.
The team will have some questions to answer during the season. Byfuglien and Ladd are pending UFAs and if they are out of the playoff race at the trade deadline expect them to be shipped somewhere in hope of stockpiling prospects. Winnipeg will never be a team that’ll hit the cap ceiling, so for them to contend with the likes of Anaheim and Chicago they have to overachieve with their young talent while they are still cheap. In my opinion, they haven’t done enough to lock them into a playoff spot before the season begins. Let’s see how the season plays out and hopefully we can see more whiteouts come April.