The 52 members of True North Sports + Entertainment making up the Winnipeg Jets on/off-ice roster have made their way west to Edmonton, AB. this past weekend and are safe and sound. Residing in Sutton Place for the foreseeable future, the team – consisting of players, coaches, front office staff, medical/equipment managers, public relations individuals, and video and social media coordinators are settled into the Western Conference’s hub city ‘bubble’ and are preparing for their exhibition game against the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday (9:30 PM central).
Following two weeks of Phase II, consisting of on/off-ice training, testing, video session and informational meetings regarding the NHL’s return to play, the official 31-man Jets roster was announced on Sunday evening, with few surprises. 17 forwards, 10 defencemen and four goaltenders made the cut and have set up shop in Alberta.
Of those participating in training camp that did not make the final roster were defencemen Nelson Nogier and Logan Stanley, as well as forward CJ Suess – all who spent the majority of the 2019-20 season with the Jets’ AHL affiliate in Manitoba. Judging by Winnipeg’s latest line combinations, Gabriel Bourque, David Gustafsson, Jansen Harkins, Mark Letestu and Logan Shaw will serve as forward scratches, while Anthony Bitetto, Carl Dahlstrom, and two of Sami Niku, Luca Sbisa and Tucker Poolman will sit games out on the blueline.
Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Nikolaj Ehlers-Cody Eakin-Patrik Laine
Andrew Copp-Adam Lowry-Jack Roslovic
Mathieu Perreault-Nick Shore-Mason Appleton
Interestingly, the part of the equation that many have failed to understand is why the Jets also determined to roster four netminders. With Connor Hellebuyck expected to get the nod each and every contest, Laurent Brossoit will serve as his backup. Eric Comrie was the highly-anticipated No. 3 man, while Mikhail Berdin also drew onto the roster.
Despite some backlash, taking four goaltenders may have been the smartest decision that the braintrust of Winnipeg’s hockey club has made in the past few days. With reports out of Major League Baseball that games have been cancelled as significant numbers of players within certain organizations have drawn the virus, carrying four goalies will alleviate some uncertainty, in the unfortunate situation that one (or more) of the backstops begins exhibiting symptoms, or receives a positive test. Including Winnipeg, 13 teams brought four goalies with them into the bubble, while 11 brought just three.
A situation within the Atlanta Braves organization saw both No. 1 and 2 catchers Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud go down with COVID-19, giving the Braves a very green back-catching corps to begin the season with. In hockey, goaltenders are much like back-catchers. They hang out together, they talk together, share particles and pieces of moist saliva. Should one goaltender contract COVID, it would be a fair assumption to make that another member of the last line of defence very well may test positive as well.
With the added comfort of the AHL duo of Comrie and Berdin backing up Hellebuyck and Brossoit, head coach Paul Maurice and Jets brass needn’t express much worry on ‘worst case scenario’ situations should an outbreak occur within Winnipeg’s bubble. Maurice, who didn’t end up changing much, chemistry-wise, is set with his lineup and confident in the players selected and their abilities to perform in this qualifying round.
“The lines are the way they are,” Maurice said. “It’s kind of how I have had them in my head over the first 71 games, more daydreaming and wishful thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have Adam Lowry in the lineup’ and all of those other things that we went through… And now, we have a chance to see them. We saw them toward the end, before the pause, and we liked the way they looked.”
“We don’t have any time to experiment right now. Now is not the time,” he added. “We don’t have seven exhibition games or 82 games either. So we finished with something that I liked, that we could really never use this year because we just didn’t have the health. We’ve got a healthy club. This is how I see the lines structuring out.”
The Jets team is officially considered the ninth-youngest of the 24 teams within the two bubbles, coming in at a ripe 26.9 years of age average. Chicago is the youngest at 25.6, while the New York Islanders are the eldest at 28.9 years of age.
Although a number of players – including Winnipeg’s own Anthony Bitetto – have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past four months, the NHL released information Monday in its regular weekly update that the league is currently COVID-free, as zero players tested this past week have returned positive tests. In administering 4,256 total tests to over 800 players, zero
On average, the NHL’s offseason is 98 games between the Stanley Cup being presented and the beginning of preseason. From the NHL’s pause in mid-March, it will have been 140 total days between games – by far the longest mid-season break in league history. The Jets take on Vancouver Wednesday evening at 9:30 PM central in their sole preseason game, before beginning their best-of-five series with Calgary on Saturday.