WINNIPEG – In this summer of bold moves, Kevin Cheveldayoff has already made his mark.
One day after bringing back veteran forward Paul Stastny on a one-year deal and acquiring defenceman Brenden Dillon in a trade, the Winnipeg Jets added another blue-liner, shipping a third round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft to the Vancouver Canucks to acquire Nate Schmidt on Tuesday night.
Schmidt had been a target of the Jets in the past, but they were previously one of the teams on his 10-team no-trade clause.
Interestingly enough, Schmidt joins Stastny — his former Vegas Golden Knights teammate — in waiving his no-trade clause to join the Jets.
The Jets were looking for a significant upgrade of the defence corps this off-season and that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished, adding a pair of experienced top-four blue-liners with term on their respective contracts.
Schmidt, who turned 30 earlier this month, has four years left on a deal that carries an average annual value of $5.95 million while Dillon’s commitment is for three more seasons at $3.9 million.
The Minnesota product is a high-character player and a minute-muncher who is known for his positive, energetic nature.
Undrafted out of college, Schmidt has carved out a solid career for himself as a reliable two-way blue-liner. He’s mobile, tough to play against and has ample playoff experience. Known more for his defensive acumen, Schmidt has eclipsed 30 points three times and had five goals and 15 points in 54 games with the Canucks last season.
When it comes to the projected defence pairings, it’s clear Jets head coach Paul Maurice is going to have a number of options at his disposal.
Schmidt shoots left-handed but actually prefers to play on the right side, so he’s likely going to be used alongside either Josh Morrissey or Dillon (if Morrissey ends up with pending RFA Neal Pionk or Dylan DeMelo.
One thing to consider is that the addition of the veterans means that there is basically only one spot available on the third pairing for a group that includes Logan Stanley, 2019 first-rounder Ville Heinola and 2017 second-rounder Dylan Samberg.
Stanley was protected by the Jets in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, so he has the inside track on the job as it stands right now — though he’s obviously facing competition for those minutes.
Heinola and/or Samberg could start next season in the American Hockey League with the Manitoba Moose, depending on how things play out.
Dillon was a salary-cap casualty for the Capitals, who needed to make room for the five-year contract Alex Ovechkin agreed to on Monday.
There was plenty of chatter about how Cheveldayoff would handle this off-season and it’s clear he’s made a serious statement to the core group of players that had already committed to the organization.
Since the current contracts of Jets captain Blake Wheeler, top-line centre Mark Scheifele and goalie Connor Hellebuyck all expire at the end of the 2023-24 season, the urgency to widen the window of contention is palpable.
Winning only one round since advancing to the Western Conference final in 2018 simply wasn’t good enough and the Jets have reacted accordingly.
The cost for the Jets is two-fold: they were willing to move some future draft capital — a second-rounder in 2022, a third-rounder in 2023 and a third-rounder in 2022 (they still own the Columbus Blue Jackets’ third in 2022 from the Patrik Laine blockbuster) and take on significant salary and term at a time when salary cap space is at a premium.
Staring at a flat cap (or close to it for the foreseeable future), the Jets sacrificed some of the future for a shot at trying to win now.
You can be sure these moves will resonate with Jets players.
“Every year the ceiling’s obviously to win a Stanley Cup,” Stastny said before the deal for Schmidt was made. “I’ve said it before, that everyone thinks they’re one or two pieces away but when you have a goalie like (Hellebuyck) and you have the offensive firepower and some of the dynamic defencemen, you’re right there. There’s no perfect situation, no perfect team, and I think it just shows that’s the NHL these days. There’s probably 22 or 23 teams that think they’re going to win the Cup every year at the start of the year, maybe more, but that’s what makes it fun, that’s what makes it competitive, that’s what makes every game so impactful.
“You see the drive and the hunger through the guys and I think that makes a big difference, too. You look at teams on paper and you don’t really know the identity or the character of those players but then when you’re around these guys, you realize how bad they want to win. They were there a couple of years ago and they might have taken a step back because they had so many losses on the back end just through unfortunate, unseen events, but what happened last year, to kind of get a taste of what the potential could be and you want to keep building on that.”
Dillon, 30, had a similar message to reporters as he spoke with them for the first time since his trade became official.
“I’m going to a team that wants to win, thinks we can win, believes that we’re going to be right there and that’s exciting going into a season with those being the expectations,” said Dillon, who advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 as a member of the San Jose Sharks and has 75 playoff games on his resume.
Cheveldayoff explained last week the Jets were committed to improving and he’s backed up that statement with actions.
As free agency opens on Wednesday morning, the Jets will be looking to perhaps add a depth forward. Otherwise, the next order of business revolves around getting new deals for pending RFAs Andrew Copp, Pionk and Stanley taken care of.
The money available to the Jets is dwindling (just under $4.55 million with 21 of 23 roster spots spoken for) after this flurry of activity, but with centre Bryan Little expected to be heading to LTIR again next season, there is a bit of wiggle room (up to an additional $5.291 million) to take care of the other business.
In the meantime, Cheveldayoff has already crossed off a couple of pressing items on his to-do list — including the most important one.
As it stands right now, the Jets defence corps appears to have gone from a weakness to a potential strength in a span of fewer than 24 hours.
Training camp questions: Edmonton Oilers – TSN
With summer officially coming to an end and training camps set to open across the National Hockey League this week, TSN gets ready for the preseason by looking at the three biggest questions facing each of the seven Canadian franchises.
On tap for today are the Edmonton Oilers, who finished with their highest points percentage in over 30 years (.643) but were swept away by the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round of the playoffs.
1. Is the defence better or worse than last year?
The Edmonton Oilers made massive changes to their defensive corps over the summer.
Gone are Adam Larsson, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and Oscar Klefbom, with Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci as the primary replacements. We know the Oilers won’t have much of an issue scoring goals, but did they do enough over the summer to prevent giving them up?
Like most off-season overhauls, that answer will likely depend on a few different things.
For starters, what does Keith have left in the tank? Keith is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, a three-time All-Star and a two-time Norris Trophy winner. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015 and has 625 points in 1,192 career NHL regular-season games.
But Keith is 38 now and as TSN’s Travis Yost points out, no Chicago Blackhawks skater conceded more goals or expected goals against – goaltender neutral – over the past two seasons. Chicago allowed the seventh-most goals last season and Keith was second-worst on the team at minus-13.
The 27-year-old Ceci was signed to a four-year, $13 million contract by the Oilers in free agency but will join his fourth team in the last four seasons. As things stand right now, it’s likely he’ll play with Keith on the second pairing.
Edmonton locked in their top pairing with contract extensions for Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie. Nurse had a career-best 16 goals last season and Barrie recorded 48 points in 56 games.
Considering the firepower the Oilers have up front, this team shouldn’t have any trouble scoring, especially with their defenceman contributing at that level.
Another intriguing option for head coach Dave Tippett is 21-year-old Evan Bouchard. The No. 10 selection from the 2018 draft, Bouchard only has 21 NHL games under his belt and might be asked to take on a much bigger role than in years past.
2. How will major free agent signee Zach Hyman fit in?
As the clock ticked toward free agency last season, Hyman told reporters he would like to remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs if it made sense. But given the Leafs’ cap situation and Hyman’s desire for a long-term deal, what made sense to one side didn’t to the other.
In swooped the Oilers, who signed Hyman to a seven-year, $38.5 million deal in one of the most debated signings of the off-season.
Hyman’s offensive numbers – 15 goals and 18 assists last season – aren’t necessarily eye-popping considering the kind of dollar value and term he got, but the Toronto native brings a lot more to the table than just points. A skilled two-way player with or without the puck, Hyman is a combined plus-70 the past four seasons. Sure, playing alongside Toronto’s other elite forwards helps that, but it’s not like there’s going to be much of a drop-off with the Oilers.
Hyman is expected to slide in beside Connor McDavid – the same Connor McDavid who had 72 assists in 56 games in 2020-21 – on the top line and should have an instant impact for the Oilers on both ends of the ice in the short term.
Time will tell if that holds up as the years go by. History hasn’t been kind to seven-year deals for 29-year-old forwards like Hyman, especially ones with a documented history of knee injuries. But finding a player like Hyman on the open market isn’t easy and is never cheap.
3. Is Jesse Puljujarvi poised to take the next step?
Two years ago, Puljujarvi appeared to have moved on from the Edmonton Oilers.
He was drafted fourth overall in 2016 but bounced between the Oilers and American Hockey League affiliate Bakersfield Condors during his first three seasons. Things didn’t exactly go smoothly, and he signed with Karpat of the SM-liiga in Finland in July of 2019 and elected to re-sign last summer with an opt-out in time for the 2020-21 NHL season.
Since he left as a restricted free agent, the Oilers retained Puljujarvi’s NHL rights. General manager Ken Holland and Tippett promised the youngster a clean slate if he ever decided to return to the NHL.
That might have been exactly what he needed.
Puljujarvi recorded career highs in both goals (15) and assists (10) and was a plus-6, far outpacing his four goal and five assist tally with a minus-14 goal differential in 2018-19, his last NHL campaign before departing for Finland.
Puljujarvi spent much of last season playing on McDavid’s right side and the duo outscored opponents 42 to 33 at even strength. His goal total from 2020-21 isn’t especially impressive alongside McDavid but when you consider that he saw limited power-play time and 13 of his 15 markers came at even strength, it makes more sense. If Hyman slides in on the left side as expected, there could be plenty more opportunity for the 23-year-old to put up some numbers heading into restricted free agency.
Jim Hughson retiring after 42-year broadcasting career – Sportsnet.ca
Sportsnet’s Jim Hughson is stepping away from the mic.
After 42 years, Hall of Fame PxP commentator Jim Hughson has announced his retirement from broadcasting.
As one of Canada’s iconic hockey voices, Jim leaves a lasting legacy at @Sportsnet & across the entire broadcasting industry.
Thank you Jim!
— Sportsnet PR (@SportsnetPR) September 21, 2021
The Hall of Fame play-by-play commentator announced his retirement from sports broadcasting on Tuesday, ending a 42-year career.
“It’s been a fantastic run and I’d like to thank Sportsnet, Hockey Night in Canada and all my friends and colleagues over the years for the tremendous support and countless memories,” said Hughson. “This is a decision I made in consultation with my family and I’m very much at peace with it. My only goal in this industry was to work at the highest level and on the last day of the season. I’ve had that opportunity a number of times and will always be grateful for it.”
Hughson called his first game on radio in 1979. He has been the voice of the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and national broadcasts on Hockey Night in Canada.
Hughson has called a dozen Stanley Cup Finals along with the men’s hockey tournament at both the 2006 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“Jim is one of the best this business has ever seen,” said Rob Corte, VP of Sportsnet and NHL Production. “Whether on TV, radio or in video games, for many he has been their soundtrack of hockey. He’s set the gold standard for broadcasting in this country and has accomplished pretty much everything any broadcaster would set out to do in their career. On top of that, he’s a tremendous teammate and an even better person.”
Hughson also was part of the Toronto Blue Jays’ broadcast crew during their World Series runs in 1992 and 1993.
In 2019, the Hockey Hall of Fame awarded Hughson the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award to honour his outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster. He is also a four-time Canadian Screen Awards winner for Best Sports Play-by-Play Announcer.
Jonathan Drouin's absence from Canadiens late last season, in playoffs due to anxiety – CBC.ca
Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin has opened up on the reasons why he took a break from hockey last spring during his club’s push for the playoffs.
In interviews aired Monday night on RDS and TVA Sports, Drouin revealed that he was suffering from anxiety and insomnia last season, problems that have afflicted him for years.
The 26-year-old said his problems reached a peak as the team was warming up for its April 23 game in Calgary against the Flames. Drouin was caught on camera looking pale and suddenly leaving the ice to return to the dressing room.
“That week was difficult for me,” Drouin told RDS. “I had fallen ill to the point where I was no longer controlling my body. That was really the moment when I realized that I needed to take a break from hockey, to take a step back.”
He has not played for the Canadiens since, even though the team went all the way to the Stanley Cup final before falling in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I had made the decision to take care of myself. I was happy with my decision. I respected my decision,” Drouin said. “For me, it was just being able to watch them, to give my support to my teammates and coaches. I was so happy with every game we won. The passion never left me.”
Expected on ice to open camp
The athlete from Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., says he has since restored his mental health, and last week he skated with his teammates at the Canadiens’ practice facility.
“I went to find help, I went to find people to be around me,” Drouin recounted to RDS. “Now I understand how it happens, I understand the little moments when I feel anxiety. I am now better equipped than I was before.”
He addressed rumours that he had entered rehab, saying they were false.
“I have never had a drug or alcohol problem,” he said.
He is expected to be on the ice for the Habs’ training camp, which officially kicks off Wednesday, and he commented on his hopes for the upcoming season.
“I am really happy to be back. I just want to have fun and get better every day,” Drouin told RDS. “I know it’s a cliche, but just having fun playing hockey is going to be the best thing for me.”
In 229 regular-season games with the Canadiens, Drouin has 40 goals and 137 points.
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