The Winnipeg Jets have reached a critical point in the 2019-20 NHL season. Following a start that saw a team – whom many expected to underwhelmingly falter – outperform its many flaws, paving the way to a 22-15-3 record by the end of December.
However, already battling the losses of defencemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Joe Morrow to free agency as well as forward Brandon Tanev, the Jets suffered another immeasurable loss as hulking blueliner Dustin Byfuglien announced an extended leave of absence from the club, which later transpired into a personal, independent medical leave for which he was suspended without pay by Winnipeg.
Beginning the year without five of the seven regulars on the blueline from last season’s playoff run certainly gave the Jets’ defence a different look. Injuries to Dmitry Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Tucker Poolman and Josh Morrissey opened the window for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to pursue available assets via the Waiver Wire.
Both Carl Dahlstrom and Luca Sbisa were claimed from the Blackhawks and Ducks, respectively, leading to a slightly new-look defence-corps. Forward Nick Shore was also picked up off the Waiver Wire from Toronto as the season progressed.
Injuries were not limited to the Jets’ back-end, as offseason addition Mark Latestu was shut down with a heart condition, Bryan Little suffered a scary injury to his eardrum, while Mathieu Perreault, Gabriel Bourque and Andrew Copp battled minor stints away from the team due to various ailments. Dahlstrom, Beaulieu and Poolman remain on the team’s defensive injured reserve.
As of January 9, the Jets (173 games) sat one game back of the Pittsburgh Penguins (174 games) for the league lead in regards to the most man games lost due to injury throughout the 2019-20 season.
On Sunday, Winnipeg lost centreman Adam Lowry late in the first period in its game against Chicago following a high hit from Blackhawks’ forward Drake Caggiula. Head coach Paul Maurice announced Monday that Lowry would miss roughly four weeks as he recovers from his upper-body injury. After earlier having two-thirds of the Lowry-Copp-Perreault line unavailable, the trio played together for just over a week before Lowry suffered his injury.
Forward Bryan Little was initially placed on the Jets’ injured reserve on November 6, after being struck in the head by a deflected Nikolaj Ehlers one-time point shot as the Jets battled the New Jersey Devils on November 5. The puck hit Little on the side of his helmet near the ear hole as he was skating behind the net. The veteran forward stayed down on the ice in a small pool of blood for a lengthy period of time before being helped to the Jets’ dressing room.
It was revealed in the days following Little’s injury that the centreman had suffered a perforated eardrum, while also experiencing concussion-like symptoms. Despite remaining on Winnipeg’s injured reserve, Little rejoined the team in early December for some off-ice activities, such as the Jets’ annual hospital visit. He has since re-joined the team on ice, skating in a non-contact yellow sweater, remaining in recovery mode of sorts.
After returning home from the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championship with a bronze medal David Gustafsson, who suffered an injury overseas, skated on his own at Bell MTS Place in a non-contact sweater Tuesday – a positive sign for the injury-riddled club.
On Monday the Jets announced the recall of forward Kristian Vesalainen from the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose, as the 20-year-old will join Jansen Harkins and the rest of the crew on the big-league squad. In 44 games for Manitoba, Vesalainen has nine goals and 22 points. He will look to draw into some game action in Lowry’s absence.
Winnipeg next takes on the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday evening on the road, before travelling to Columbus for a Wednesday evening battle with the Blue Jackets.