Now that the dust has settled on another early playoff exit, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff can turn his attention to the upcoming offseason which includes another expansion draft to prepare for.
Last time Cheveldayoff went through this process, he had to make a trade with Vegas in order to protect two players he was forced to leave exposed.
To ensure that Toby Enstrom and Marko Dano were not selected in the expansion draft, the Jets sent the 13th overall pick in 2017 and a 2019 third to Vegas for the 24th overall pick in 2017.
The Golden Knights selected Chris Thornburn from the Jets in the expansion draft.
Now, four years later will Cheveldayoff follow the same route with Seattle?
It makes the most sense for the Jets to protect 7-forwards, 3-defensemen and 1-goalie. They’re also allowed to protect eight skaters (forward/defense) and one goalie should they chose.
Most of the choices for the Jets are easy.
At forward Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler (NMC), Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Adam Lowry and Pierre-Luc Dubois are six of the seven forwards the Jets will surely protect.
On defense Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey (NMC) will be protected.
While teams can protect pending UFA’s to avoid them from negotiating with Seattle, it’s unlikely the Jets will do so. We’ll take them out of the equation.
That leaves Andrew Copp, Mason Appleton and Jansen Harkins up front, and Dylan DeMelo. Logan Stanley, Nathan Beaulieu and Sami Niku on the backend.
A few others will too, be exposed, but no one that the Kraken are likely to look at.
So now, where do the Jets go from here?
While the Jets are not itching to get rid of Harkins, I think of the three, he’s the one they’d prefer to lose.
That leaves Copp or Appleton?
Appleton was outstanding this past season, notching a career-high in points with 25. Appleton’s game very much transformed this season. He grew his game defensively and found much success by being a net-driving force in what was a deep forward core.
Like Appleton, Copp took a step forward in his game, notching career highs in goals (15), assists (24) points (39) and power play points (12). Copp also showed an ability to move up in the lineup as an injury replacement when needed, making him even more valuable to head coach Paul Maurice.
While Appleton is the younger of the two, I think Copp provides more value than Appleton and therefore will be protected.
The third and final defensemen protected will cause Cheveldayoff some sleepless nights, and if a trade with Seattle is to come, is likely the reason why.
It’s essentially the DeMelo vs. Stanley debate.
For most of the year, DeMelo was the clear choice here. But Stanley’s development throughout the season and through the end of the playoffs makes the picture much cloudier.
The 23-year-old rookie wasn’t supposed to be part of the Jets puzzle this year. But just like that there he was, earning himself a third-pairing job. His play late in the season and in the playoff shows a higher ceiling.
He’s big on the ice. It’s hard to miss him when he’s out there throwing his body around and using that powerful point shot to create offense.
The Jets missed DeMelo in the playoffs, that was clear right away. The Jets signed DeMelo to a four-year deal for a reason, they want him as a long-term part of their d-core.
Leaving DeMelo unprotected could force the Jets to overspend on defense in free agency, an area that needs to be addressed, with, or without DeMelo.
As promising as Stanley’s season was, I think the Jets see more value in protecting DeMelo.
Jets Protected List:
7 Forwards: Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler (NMC), Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Adam Lowry, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Andrew Copp
3 Defensemen: Neal Pionk, Josh Morrissey (NMC) and Dylan DeMelo
1 Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck
With that being said, I think the Jets will end up making a trade with Seattle to protect Appleton and Stanley, losing either Niku, Beaulieu or Harkins.