The Winnipeg Jets scratched and clawed their way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, but once they got there they barely put up a fight.
The Jets bowed out of their first round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, winning the first game and then dropping four straight to lose in five games. Now, with a long offseason ahead of them, there's speculation that the team may go through a bit of a restructuring or a mini-rebuild. The team doesn't have many big names with expiring contracts this season (Pierre Luc Dubois may be the only one), but in the 2024 offseason the likes of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Nate Schmidt, Neal Pionk and Connor Hellebuyck are all up for contract renewals. Fans and analysts have speculated that the Jets will likely make a decision on the future of those players this offseason, so as to not risk losing them in a year for no return.
Wheller and Scheifele usually garner most of the headlines, but to me the future of Hellebuyck is most important. The guy is just a couple years removed from a Vezina Trophy winning season and at 29 years old there's still some quality years left in him.
In his latest column for The New York Post, longtime NHL reporter Larry Brooks states that at least four teams are interested in Hellebuyck if and when the Jets make him available. Those teams, in no particular order, are the New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings.
More from Brooks:
Seems to me that GM Tom Fitzgerald’s offseason mandate in New Jersey is crystal as the Devils attempt to make the jump from contender to champion, and that is to acquire a franchise goaltender.
And there is likely going to be one available in Winnipeg, with perennial Vezina contender Connor Hellebuyck one year away from free agency and unlikely to sign an extension after seven seasons with the Jets.
There would likely be a bidding war for the netminder, who will turn 30 this coming Friday. The Penguins, currently without a GM, would be interested. The Senators might take a look. The Kings might take a gander at the Vezina finalist who carries a $6.2 million cap hit into next season, which would be a disqualifier for some.
- Larry Brooks
Brooks even goes so far as to propose a hypothetical deal that would see Hellebuyck end up in New Jersey.
Check it out:
New Jersey could start by offering Jesper Bratt, the 24-year-old winger coming up on restricted free agency with arbitration rights and a required $5.45 million qualifying offer — and coming off the most disappointing playoff performance of any Devil.
Their 2023 first-rounder is gone, off to San Jose for Timo Meier — who found the way to be a valuable presence in the playoffs with relentless physical play despite the 40-goal scorer getting just two in 11 games.
At this juncture, they have just five varsity forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season. Vitek Vanecek had a stabilizing year in net but was inadequate in the postseason. MacKenzie Blackwood would be a good one to offer up to the Jets in a package for Hellebuyck.
- Larry Brooks
Personally, if I were the Devils I'd be willing to roll the dice on Akira Schmid, rather than committing to a long-term deal to an aging Hellebuyck. Truthfully I think Hellebuyck is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, but Schmid looks like the real deal and has earned the opportunity to take the reigns in Jersey.
As for the Penguins, Senators and Kings... Hellebuyck makes far more sense there, particularly in LA.