Enstrom plays hero for the Jets; Is Dano on the move?
Toby Saves the Day
Only two players in the NHL waived their No-Move Clauses (NMC’s) to expose themselves to the Las Vegas Golden Knights – Pens’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and Jets’ defender Tobias Enstrom. Prior to Saturday morning’s revelation of Enstrom’s waived NMC, most prognosticators anticipated that the Jets would protect 4 defencemen – Trouba, Byfuglien, Myers, and Enstrom (Morrissey is exempt), meaning they only had the opportunity to protect four forwards – Scheifele, Wheeler, Little, and one other. With Chevy’s past loyalty to ‘character’ veterans like Mark Stuart and Chris Thorburn, the gritty, coach-friendly, and defensively capable Adam Lowry was the betting favourite to be the fourth forward protected, likely at the expense of underrated top-6 winger Mathieu Perreault, or versatile bottom-6 winger Joel Armia. Instead, Enstrom graciously waived the clause, while making it absolutely clear (through his agent) that he loves Winnipeg, and has absolutely no desire to play in Vegas. There are rumours that the club may present Enstrom with a 1-year contract extension on July 1 as a reward. (Contract extensions can only be formalized 1 year before the contract expires).
Will Vegas Select Enstrom?
So now that Perreault is safe from the clutches of McPhee & McCrimmon, much of the attention turns to Enstrom – an effective top-4 defenceman, albeit slightly overpaid. Many Jets fans worry that Vegas will select him, leaving the team’s already shaky depth at left defence all the weaker. However, I don’t think it’s likely that Vegas will select Enstrom. Firstly, most keen observers expect that Vegas will be looking for assets first, and players second. Enstrom may be a good defender, but if Vegas is looking to select him and flip him at the trade deadline in February, it’s hard to believe there’ll be many teams lining up for a 33-year-old defenceman, with rapidly declining offensive totals, who has missed an average of 18 games per year over the past three seasons, has very little playoff experience, and makes nearly $6M. Secondly, not only is Enstrom’s value in decline relative compared to his past self, but there’s also an abundant supply of quality defencemen, many of whom are younger and/or cheaper than Enstrom. Jason Demers (Fla), Matt Dumba (Min), Sami Vatanen (Ana), Marc Methot (Ott), Jack Johnson (Clb), Trevor Van Riemsdyk (Chi), and Calvin de Haan (Nyi) are all potentially available in the expansion draft and will be coveted by other teams should Vegas choose to shop any of them now, or in February. Furthermore, assuming Vegas does acquire and then shop some of those d-men, they could still look to free agency, where Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Mike Stone, Brian Campbell, and Brendan Smith are available. Not many other teams will have as much cap space as Vegas, or if so, they may lack the willingness to use it. (Carolina, Arizona…Winnipeg). All that said, there is one wrinkle in the expansion process – it’s been widely reported that Anaheim, Columbus, and the New York Islanders all have side-deals worked out with Vegas to not select certain players, meaning Vatanen (and fellow Duck Josh Manson), Jack Johnson, and Calvin de Haan may not be available to Vegas after all. Despite this, there should be several quality options to help Vegas fill out their top-4D, and most of them will have more affordable contracts than Enstrom, and more potential to stick around long-term. The prospect of paying a discontented defenceman nearly $6M to play outside of the top-4 doesn’t make much sense when better options are available.
Dano to Depart
If Enstrom truly is safe, there’s little doubt that Vegas will select 2013 first-round pick, Marko Dano. He’s the most skilled player the Jets have to offer – the only other options from last year’s NHL roster include Shawn Mathias, Ben Chiarot, Mark Stuart, and Michael Hutchinson – and has more upside than he’s shown thus far in his brief NHL career. In retrospect, the Jets telegraphed their intention to protect 3D and 7F when they signed Dano this past week; prior to his signing, the only forward that Winnipeg had to expose in a 3-7 format was Shawn Matthias, and it’s a requirement that each team expose at least two forwards currently under contract. The Jets only signed Dano so that they could expose him.
Dano is a low-risk, high-reward pick-up for Vegas – he’s young – 22 going on 23 – is signed for only $850,000, and has the potential to score 15-20 goals if he gets enough ice-time, particularly on the powerplay. He has a good shot, can make plays around the net, and is hard to knock off the puck as he’s built solidly, with a low centre of gravity. Worst case, if things don’t work out in Vegas, there’s no downside – the Knights can probably still flip him for a mid-round pick. If all that is true, then why would the Jets expose him?
There’s no question that Dano has above-average skill. And if you talk to someone whose analysis relies on analytics, they’ll tell you that he’s heavily underrated (his points/60 mins is comparable to Nik Ehlers), and has a Perreault-like ability to make his linemates better. I think there are several reasons why the Jets were willing to let Dano go – one is depth on the wings – Ehlers and Perreault are entrenched in the top-6 on left wing, and though Dano could fit nicely on the third line, Kyle Connor was about to leapfrog him on the depth chart. Another is the versatility offered by other players – Joel Armia plays the right side in the bottom-6, and many have compared the two going back to the camp battle last season. In this case, I think most would agree that Dano has a bit more offensive upside – though not miles more – but Armia is 6’3, with great reach, an active stick on the forecheck/backcheck, and is really emerging as a go-to player on the penalty kill – an area where the Jets have struggled. He is inconsistent, but you could say the same for Dano. Ultimately, Armia’s known defensive ability and decent offensive upside outweighed Dano’s unrealized offensive upside and negligible defensive contributions. As for Copp and Lowry, again, neither of them has Dano’s skill and upside either, but both are bigger, stronger, more versatile (play centre or wing), play on the pk, and bring a strong work ethic, maturity, and “fit” to the culture of the organization. While I think “fit” is typically a poor criteria to emphasize in player evaluation, I think it’s only one of many factors in this particular case. In the end, the Jets may simply be hedging on the downside of players like Armia, Copp, and Lowry, rather than betting on Dano’s upside.
Why Jets Aren’t Enamoured with Dano
Which brings me to the last point – I think there’s a good chance that Marko Dano may end up being a tweener. A tweener is a player who is very skilled, and is able to dominant lower levels of play. They may show flashes at the highest level, but are unable to sustain their success, likely due to one (or a few) flaws in their game. Tweeners are typically limited by one of two factors – they’re usually too small, or too slow. For Marko Dano, I think it’s 80% skating, 20% size. If Dano skated like Bryan Little, he’d easily be a top-9 winger, if not top-6. But Dano’s skating is average at best, perhaps a little less than average. If he gets the puck on his stick deep in a dangerous spot, he’s a very good player, but the trouble is getting there; because his acceleration isn’t great, he struggles in transition, and finds it hard to gain separation from defenders, back-checkers, etc. In terms of size, there’s no issue with strength (he’s built like a tank), but being 5’11 means he has limited reach; this compounds the issues with his skating, as he has a harder time protecting the puck and getting time/space/separation from defenders. Now none of this makes him ineffective, but it means that he has trouble creating offence on his own – he’s best used as a complement to a really good playmaker. But guess what happens when you’re not quite skilled enough to play in the top-6? You typically don’t get to play with really good playmakers. You don’t generate as many shots, scoring chances, high-danger chances, etc., and your stats, and overall contribution suffer. And while I won’t suggest that Dano is poor defensively, he probably isn’t going to turn into Michael Frolik anytime soon (Frolik, like most great penalty killers and defensive players, is an excellent skater). So herein lies the issue for players like Dano – can he score enough to fit in the top-9? If not, it isn’t much good putting him on the 4th line, as he and his linemates likely won’t be able to create enough good chances that take advantage of his skill. Overall, I think Dano has the potential to score in the neighbourhood of 15 goals and 20 assists, he wasn’t going to get that shot in Winnipeg anytime soon, and it’s unlikely that he’ll do it next year in Vegas with the turnover that roster will experience, and the lack of creative centremen. Despite his skill, the Jets probably view the loss of Marko Dano as a best-case scenario.
When will we know?
Vegas will send the NHL their expansion draft selections by 9 am CT on Wednesday, June 21st. The NHL will then reveal the new Vegas team at the NHL Awards at 7 pm CT later that evenng. As always keep it locked to illegalcurve.com and on social media including Twitter | Facebook | Instagram for the latest news connected to the Jets.