Winnipeg Jets depth chart 1.0: What changes will free agency bring?

LAS VEGAS — Rutger McGroarty’s lack of Jets future is Winnipeg’s biggest storyline right now. Just don’t lose sight of Kevin Cheveldayoff’s to-do list as we approach July 1.

It’s not that the Jets are associated with the market’s biggest names. They’ve got their offers in with Sean Monahan and Brenden Dillon’s camps, but those players are expected to explore the market. They know they need a backup goaltender, with Laurent Brossoit earning more money and more opportunity elsewhere.

But the Jets still need help — one top-four defenceman at minimum, while help at centre would spare them a season spent second-guessing Gabriel Vilardi, or Vladislav Namestnikov, or youngsters Cole Perfetti and Brad Lambert in that role.

They have approximately $7.7 million in cap space to add that help, while also signing a backup goaltender and Perfetti to a bridge deal. This figure assumes minimal raises for restricted free agents like Logan Stanley and David Gustafsson but the point is clear: Without cap relief in the form of a buyout or trade, there’s only room for one substantial piece — and therein lies Cheveldayoff’s work. There are salary cap safety valves available, however. Trading Alex Iafallo would save Winnipeg $4 million while buying out Nate Schmidt would save $3.2 million this season before costing $1.6 million next year.

But cap space is only as valuable as what a team is able to do with it.

With the UFA market a seldom successful source of Jets solutions, Cheveldayoff will have to acquire his upgrades via trade, surprise us with a signing or find as much value as possible in less-heralded free agents. This might make McGroarty’s exit wish convenient as opposed to catastrophic, although it feels like Winnipeg is at the mercy of players’ increasing leverage on their right to play where they choose.

I emphasize “feels” for two reasons — first, because the last major case of this involved PL Dubois going for Vilardi, Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari and the pick that became fast, offensive defenceman Alfons Freij in Vegas on Saturday. And second, because Dillon, Monahan and Brossoit really did like it in Winnipeg. They may find more money or fits they like better, but they’re not leveraging their situations to force their way out of town like Dubois did.

What now, then? What will actually happen in this ever-shifting Jets offseason?

For starters, Cheveldayoff confirmed that McGroarty won’t attend development camp next week. That’s completely reasonable — whether a move comes sooner or is delayed all of the way to the trade deadline, the relationship is coming to an end. Cheveldayoff also spoke more optimistically about retaining Nikolaj Ehlers than expected, mirroring his words about Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele at last year’s draft.

“Nikolaj Ehlers is a big part of our team. We’re very focused on trying to put the best team on the ice that we possibly can in order to compete for a Stanley Cup,” Cheveldayoff said. “He’s a big part of what we have going forward.”

Cheveldayoff’s offseason is only just beginning. Here are the key storylines, the Jets’ updated depth chart and a look ahead to free agency.

Winnipeg’s forward depth chart possibilities


Kyle Connor

Mark Scheifele

Gabriel Vilardi

Cole Perfetti*

Vladislav Namestnikov

Nikolaj Ehlers

Nino Niederreiter

Adam Lowry

Mason Appleton

Morgan Barron

David Gustafsson*

Alex Iafallo

Nikita Chibrikov

Brad Lambert

Rasmus Kupari

Scott Arniel doesn’t have to run these lines just because Rick Bowness did. He might even get to camp and find that Lambert has forced his way onto the roster, earning a roster spot at a veteran player’s expense.

Overall, though? These forwards were pretty good during the regular season.

Adam Lowry’s line went up against top competition all season and outscored it. Namestnikov, Perfetti and Ehlers were Winnipeg’s secondary scoring line for roughly one-third of the season and they won their minutes, too. The Jets could return this exact same group of forwards with confidence if Scheifele’s line with Vilardi and Kyle Connor could do the same, although their 200-minute track record last season gave up too many shots, changes and goals against.

For now, there are some clear takeaways. Iafallo’s track record suggests he has more to give than we saw last season — let’s give some grace to a player who lost a dear friend shortly after moving to a new city — but $4 million is inefficient money to spend on the fourth line. If Winnipeg moves on from him, it’s easy to imagine Namestnikov moving up and down the lineup as needed while Lambert earns an NHL job.

It’s also clear that, barring the return of Monahan (or somebody like him), the season could be spent auditioning Vilardi, Perfetti or Lambert for second-line centre duties. Namestnikov’s trio did win its minutes last season but he’s a 31-year-old pending UFA who doesn’t win many faceoffs — capable as a workaround, but not ideal to depend on in the role. It would be fascinating if Winnipeg focuses on developing youth on its second line.

“There’s going to be some opportunities for some different players to come into the lineup,” Cheveldayoff said.

I think the Jets will try to augment their top-six forward group. They were happy with Monahan and would like to have him back. If that ship sails, then they could be left competing for name-brand centres like Elias Lindholm or Chandler Stephenson. Looking at their ages and their projected cap hits, though? Jets fans might prefer a year spent on forward development, without major additions, at least until the trade deadline.

That’s beginning to sound like the most likely path.

Winnipeg’s defence depth chart possibilities

This is where it gets troubling.


Josh Morrissey

Dylan DeMelo

Dylan Samberg

Neal Pionk

Nate Schmidt

Ville Heinola*

Logan Stanley*

Elias Salomonsson

Winnipeg has one star defenceman in Josh Morrissey and a top-four capable partner to play him with in Dylan DeMelo. They’ve fit well together for years now, with Morrissey crediting DeMelo, in part, for his own steps forward in performance.

Beyond that, every possibility for a top-four defenceman comes with a question mark.

Dylan Samberg has done really well with third-pairing for three straight seasons. He plays an old-school, stay-at-home game in his own zone without getting lost in coverage. He blocks shots and wins physical battles. His transition game is hit-or-miss, though, with some puck gaffes marring otherwise strong play. A top-four job might be within his reach and it would be a nice story if he found success with fellow Hermantown, Minn., product Neal Pionk. But Pionk has been chaotic defensively, while the next top-four job Samberg has in the NHL will be his first.

Further down the lineup, Winnipeg has Schmidt as a third-pairing capable veteran, Stanley as a third-pairing possibility and prospects Elias Salomonsson and Ville Heinola. I believe all four of these players could help in a third-pairing role — good news, but not so good it makes up for what looks like an outmatched second pair. I also believe that Schmidt would be celebrated if he made half his salary — he’s a great mentor and delivers positive value from the third pair — but his $5.95 million salary makes him a buyout possibility this weekend.

Salomonsson is Winnipeg’s most exciting prospect — a right-handed defenceman who plays a physical brand of hockey and who has excelled on great teams in the SHL. Heinola was set to make the Jets out of camp last season — and needs to stay healthy and do it again, now that he’d need waivers to be sent down. Salomonsson wouldn’t require waivers so perhaps he gets AHL time to acclimate to North America.

We’re getting into the weeds, though. This is not a “win now” defence unless Samberg takes a reasonable step forward, Pionk reclaims the top-four form we saw back in 2021 and one of Stanley, Schmidt, Heinola or Salomonsson takes a positive leap. Winnipeg needs someone to replace Dillon at a minimum — and then another, right-handed version of the same player, if we’re living in fantasy land.

The cap won’t allow that and the market might not, either.

Matt Roy would be the dream UFA, while Brett Pesce is another player whose style meets the Jets’ needs. Otherwise, Winnipeg’s options are on the trade market or on players who make it past July 1 free agency. Pionk had success with Cup winner Dmitry Kulikov early in his Jets career. I think the Jets need a bigger upgrade than that.

Winnipeg’s goaltending depth chart possibilities

Winnipeg is set in goal but needs a backup to replace Brossoit. The relationships involved are strong, but it’s hard to see the Jets being able to offer the playing time and contract that Brossoit has earned.

What are the Jets looking for?

“We have the best goaltender in the NHL as our goaltender, so he’s going to play a lot,” Cheveldayoff said at the draft. “He thrives on playing a lot. You need somebody that can understand that, can accept that, but can work with that and can be ready. Someone that has a good outlook of where they’re at in their career and can understand the situation in front of them. We are open and honest when we will get into discussions with players about that role.”

Here is a list of goaltenders believed to be on the market. Contract projections are from Evolving Hockey.

Player Age Proj. Cap Hit 2023-24 Sv.% 2023-24 GSAX





































I like a goaltending list that includes a pair of Manitobans. James Reimer and Chris Driedger wouldn’t be the answer to Winnipeg’s twisting and turning offseason path but I suspect they’d have a lot of fans in the building on any given night.

What happens between now and July 1?

“The next day and a half will be like the last two and a half weeks,” Cheveldayoff said. “It’s been that process of trying to understand where everything is at. Certainly we’re in more constant contact with our own UFA guys, trying to see if there is a way to make some things work. This phase and time of the year is over now and we jump into the next one with both feet.”

(Photo: Darcy Finley / NHLI via Getty Images)

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