ANALYSIS: Solving roster issues on blue line is key for Jets in off-season

There are only four teams in the NHL right now not already planning for next season. The other 28 are staring into a prism fixated on how to improve overall by next fall, the Winnipeg Jets included.

And while the immediate focus for Winnipeg management is to hire a head coach, there are other primary focal points that require their attention in a timely and strategic fashion.

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For the Jets’ hockey executives, the view must be kaleidoscopic. After all, what’s in orbit right now is the future of winger Nikolaj Ehlers, the state of the second-line centre position, and Laurent Brossoit likely on the move to free agency again — only this time as the best goalie in the league without a number one job.

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But perhaps the starting point to the list of pressing roster and organizational considerations is that of unrestricted free agents in Brenden Dillon and Dylan DeMelo.

Winnipeg Jets’ Dylan DeMelo dives after the puck during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 8, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Unarguably, both hold great value on the team’s blue line. And without one or both, the club would certainly lack some toughness, puck mobility, certainly veteran experience, and in the continued pursuit of improved culture — their positive locker room presence.

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Now, it’s easily acknowledged that money demands and contract length might force the Jets to find replacements for either Dillon or DeMelo — or again, both — but the fact remains the Jets are better with them entering next season than without.

And yes, the team needs to make space for younger D-men to push into the lineup ASAP, but there are other ways to free up spots to do that than divesting of either of the two veterans, especially understanding that both want to remain in Winnipeg.

At this point, the NHL is down to its final four, and based on the lens the Jets are looking through right now, they’d view next season much more favourably if they weren’t down two important defencemen by July 1.

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