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Mark Scheifele couched his response in love for the city of Winnipeg.
He framed it as a need to understand the Jets’ state — understandable, given the tumultuous season that was.
It was shocking all the same.
“I just have to know where this team is going and what the direction is and what the changes are going to be — if any,” Scheifele said the day before his exit interview with Jets brass. “I have to think about my career and what’s going to be best for me.”
It is highly unusual for a player under contract for two more seasons to take a wait-and-see approach to his commitment to the team. It is striking that a player who played more minutes on a nightly basis than any other forward would frame Winnipeg’s issues as something that must be solved before he buys in.
The initial shock of those words has long worn off. Even Scheifele’s lengthy exit interview, which he suggested would be “a tough talk,” is more than a month in the rearview mirror.
The Jets desperately want a return to playoff contention over the next two seasons. They’ve invested in Scheifele’s success since the day Mark Chipman announced his team would be called the Jets and Kevin Cheveldayoff called Scheifele’s name at the 2011 draft.
Those successes have been many.
Scheifele, who turned 29 on March 15, has delivered six straight point per game seasons from 2016-17 to now. He is 16th in NHL point scoring over that same timeframe. When Winnipeg went to the Western Conference final in 2018, Scheifele scored 14 goals and six assists for 20 points in 17 playoff games. He scored as frequently from the slot on the power play as Patrik Laine did with his cannon on the other side of the ice. Even more impressive, Winnipeg dominated even strength play during those playoffs whenever Scheifele was on the ice.
Yes, he was helped by a close-to-prime Blake Wheeler, who was a dominant even strength player for so many years, and it’s true that Winnipeg’s defence, led by Dustin Byfuglien, was capable of more then than it is today. But Scheifele was the answer whenever Winnipeg had questions that spring. Paul Maurice famously spoke of Scheifele as a player who could win multiple Cups as the captain of a team and perhaps even be celebrated with a statue outside of the rink.
He hasn’t been a dominant five-on-five player in any season since — not because Scheifele can’t take over any given game, but because his poor defensive impact sweeps the rug out from underneath his all-world offensive excellence.
It is true that Scheifele faces top competition on a regular basis. The Jets have tried to address inadequate centre depth a number of times, starting with the tremendously successful Paul Stastny acquisition in 2018. But Stastny signed in Vegas that same summer, while Kevin Hayes didn’t work out as well as a deadline acquisition the following season. Bryan Little’s 2019 injury further eroded Winnipeg’s centre depth and even the 2021 acquisition of Pierre-Luc Dubois didn’t pay immediate dividends.
Now that Dubois is a veritable 1B centre with a realistic shot at taking over Winnipeg’s No. 1 job, the Jets theoretically should have their centre issues sorted out.
But Scheifele’s defensive effort appeared to get worse this season, not better. Defensive flybys became a regular sight, along with Scheifele spotted playing above his man in the defensive zone or looking to fly the zone before Winnipeg had possession of the puck. No one named names but when Stastny and Wheeler talked about players who don’t play a 200-foot game in their exit interviews, with Stastny going as far as to say it showed a lack of respect, it seemed clear that Scheifele was in their crosshairs. Teammates know the difference between 100 percent effort and something much less than that.
Complicating matters, Dubois is a restricted free agent this summer and could be headed for a one-year deal via arbitration. The Jets worked hard to get two top centres but beyond 2024, they have contract certainty on neither player.
It’s also important to note that Scheifele didn’t say anything he couldn’t theoretically walk back. If he’s spoken with his family, his agents and looked inside himself to understand his goals at this stage of his career and concluded that Winnipeg is what works best for him, all he has to do is say so. Still, I believe that Scheifele’s exit interview with the Jets was long and challenging and that a change of scenery may be best for everyone involved.
Even if a trade is not a lock, we still need to address the question at hand.
What could Winnipeg get for Scheifele?
For that answer, I turned to The Athletic’s roster of NHL reporters. I’ve sorted through their thoughts and I’ve listed the teams in order of what I consider to be the most intriguing potential trade packages.
Here are your Scheifele trade targets:
Patrice Bergeron may retire. David Krejci’s future is unknown. Erik Haula and Charlie Coyle are the top two centres.
So yes, the Bruins consider it critical to add a proven NHL pivot like Mark Scheifele. The question is whether they have the goods to turn Winnipeg’s eye their way.
The Bruins traded their 2022 first-round pick to Anaheim in the Hampus Lindholm deal. Lindholm also cost the Bruins second-rounders in 2023 and 2024.
Their best pieces, then, may be on the roster.
Jake DeBrusk, third on the team with 25 goals in 2021-22, could be their top asset. The 25-year-old is signed through 2024 at $4 million annually. Brandon Carlo, also 25, has grown into a dependable second-pairing defensive defenceman. Carlo will never push the offensive pace, but he is signed through 2027 at a $4.1 million AAV.
The Bruins might consider an offer of one or the other, along with a mid-level prospect, in a Scheifele trade. Jack Studnicka, once considered a possible Krejci replacement, has hit a development flatline, as described by general manager Don Sweeney. It’s possible Studnicka, 23, could find NHL traction elsewhere. Fabian Lysell and Mason Lohrei are the Bruins’ top two prospects but neither is likely to be available in a Scheifele deal.–Fluto Shinzawa
Ates: Boston is in a difficult spot right now, having fired Bruce Cassidy and staring down a season that could start without Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand and might not feature Bergeron at all. Still, it’s difficult to imagine the Jets looking at DeBrusk and Studnicka as solutions in a Scheifele trade. DeBrusk, a 2024 UFA, was Boston’s seventh-most used forward last season, while Studnicka projects as a middle-six centre. Both of these players can help a team win but I suspect you need to add a high pick — possible in the first round — to make things work for Winnipeg.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks don’t need another centre capable of playing near the top of the lineup. They have Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture, both making $8 million-plus for at least the next five years. What the Sharks do need is more good players, given ownership’s mandate to keep building instead of tearing down the roster.
San Jose likely won’t want to yield the No. 11 pick in the 2022 draft for a player with two years of control left. Any future first would need to be heavily protected, because the Sharks have been in the lottery three straight years. One asset that could make sense for the Jets is defenceman Mario Ferraro.
First, the current Sharks regime loves Ferraro. The veterans on the team love him. But maybe the forthcoming new general manager will see a young defenceman with value that can help land a forward who might be more valuable.
Ferraro might not be enough to land Scheifele, but a non-top prospect or a non-first round pick could help make it happen. If the Sharks could move Radim Simek (or include him in the deal), that plus what Ferraro might get as a restricted free agent is pretty close to Scheifele’s number. It would leave a hole on the left side of the defence, but 29-year-old centres who have averaged more than a point per game over the past five seasons aren’t usually available on a two-year, $12.25 million contract.–Corey Masisak
Ates: San Jose clocks in as a Western Conference consideration for Scheifele. Hertl and Couture eat a lot of the high-end minutes but the Sharks are trying to compete without a roster teardown, as Corey writes. Ferraro’s appeal is that he has already played top-four minutes and survived them at 23. He’s a defence-first defenceman who helps reduce offence at both ends of the rink and would be under team control for four more seasons. No, that’s not enough for Scheifele on its own, but if the Jets can squeeze a first-round pick out of the Sharks, the value gets more appealing. That said, the best fits are further down this page.
There are three ways the offseason goes for the Penguins, but the one I see as most likely is re-signing defenceman Kris Letang and not keeping Evgeni Malkin. In that scenario, the club’s biggest need would be a second centre, but no mere No. 2-calibre centre would do because the dynamic in Pittsburgh has only worked with two No. 1 centres.
Enter Scheifele for Pittsburgh’s 2022 first-round pick, Teddy Blueger, Jason Zucker, prospect defenceman Pierre-Olivier Joseph and prospect winger Sam Poulin.
For the deal to work, Pittsburgh would most definitely need to give up a lot. But this package doesn’t mortgage the future, though in Joseph and Poulin it does provide the Jets a couple of former blue chippers that likely would benefit from being in a new organization with a chance to play sooner than later. Zucker, if healthy, is a good player and a winger that needn’t play with a star centre to produce.
The deal gets done because of Blueger, who projects as a No. 3 centre but also has 20-goal offensive potential, and the first-round pick.–Rob Rossi
Ates: Pittsburgh still has Sidney Crosby playing at a high level and will go down swinging — even if they have to do so without Letang and Malkin. Scheifele’s two-year contract thus becomes a perfect window-extender, giving Pittsburgh a tremendous offensive player to keep pushing with as a 1B or No. 2 centre. Rossi is not shy when it comes to Pittsburgh’s assets, either: a stopgap centre in Blueger (UFA 2023), a stopgap scorer in Zucker (UFA 2023, and a viable package of futures highlighted by this summer’s 21st pick. Joseph, 22, is a 2017 first-round pick who scores well in the AHL but hasn’t found a home on the Penguins blue line, while Poulin is also a recent first-round pick who scored 37 points in 72 AHL games in his first pro season.
Pittsburgh’s package addresses Winnipeg’s hope to stay competitive in the short term while providing hope for the future as well — the Jets could extend their own window to win by drafting 14th, 21st and again with the Rangers’ pick at the end of the first round.
Unlike in past offseasons, when the Flyers’ intentions were clear, this time around, their plan is far more opaque. In January, both general manager Chuck Fletcher and his boss at Comcast Spectacor (who owns the Flyers) Dave Scott touted the concept of an “aggressive retool” as a way to quickly turn the club back into contenders. Then, Fletcher backed off a bit in his end-of-season news conference, presenting more of a middle-ground approach to restructuring a clearly-flawed roster.
Either way, the Flyers plan to be active. The question in this case, however, is whether they’d be willing to be aggressive enough to actively target a 29-year-old centre with just two years left on his contract.
To be sure, the Flyers could use Scheifele. He would provide an ideal scoring complement to Sean Couturier’s two-way prowess, and push Kevin Hayes down to a more comfortable 3C role, giving Philadelphia one of the league’s deepest centre corps in the process. And Scheifele’s short remaining term could be a blessing in disguise for the Flyers, as it would allow them to pursue a “win-now” philosophy while not necessarily locking them into a long deal in case they need to quickly pivot to a full-scale rebuild if their “retool” fails to work as hoped.
That said, he won’t come cheap. And there are some pieces I do believe will be off the table for the Flyers. It’s difficult for me to imagine Fletcher willing to offer up the fifth pick in this draft – the organization desperately needs to add high-end young talent to the pipeline, and this stands as their best chance since 2017 to do so. It’s also unlikely that they’d part with their 2023 first, given the perceived strength of that draft and the legitimate possibility that the Flyers could be near the bottom of the standings again. I also suspect that they’d hesitate to move top prospect Cam York, who they see as an essential part of their future blue line.
So what does that leave as potential tradeable assets? Quite a few. Fletcher added a second 2024 first-rounder in the trade that sent Claude Giroux to Florida; I imagine he’d be more than willing to send one of their two firsts in that draft back out. Centre Morgan Frost, a 2017 first-round pick who has yet to fully establish himself as an NHLer but isn’t lacking for raw talent, would be on the table, as I imagine would be the Flyers’ non-York defence prospects. Something like a 2024 first, Frost and perhaps right-handed defenceman Ronnie Attard could be a package offer that the Flyers might be willing to send Winnipeg’s way. Whether it would be acceptable to Winnipeg is another story, of course.
Or, maybe Fletcher could get more creative. There’s talk that 25-year old top-pair defenceman Ivan Provorov (with three years left on a contract with a $6.75 million cap hit) could be available for the right price this summer; that would be a fascinating “hockey trade” of two players that could potentially benefit from changes of scenery. And then there’s Travis Sanheim, who has just one year left on his contract but is a Manitoba native and trains in Winnipeg. If the Flyers determine that he is expendable because of fears that they’ll be unable to re-sign him, perhaps he could be a fit in a one-for-one trade as well, so long as he’d be willing to re-up with his “hometown” team. There are quite a few potential deals that could make sense for both sides here – if the Flyers are willing to stick with their original “aggressive retool” strategy.–Charlie O’Connor
Ates: I can’t shake the idea that Philadelphia is the perfect landing spot for Scheifele. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to line up behind Couturier, creating an all-defence/all-offence one-two punch at centre than neatly ties together the “which centre drafted in 2011 was better?” storyline. Perhaps it’s because I sit beside Sportsnet’s Ken Wiebe in the press box and the Flyers fit has come up frequently in conversation.
Or maybe it’s because Philadelphia wants to win, is willing to wheel and deal and appears to be willing to shop Provorov. A one-for-one Scheifele-for-Provorov deal helps meet needs in both cities, while the cap hit is close and Provorov’s extra remaining contract year balances out Scheifele’s star power. If it hits, the Jets get a 25-year-old top-four defenceman who has been over his head at times on Philadelphia’s top pair role but still has time to grow into that role.
I think Provorov is more appealing than the package of futures Charlie lists but there are simply so many pieces, including Sanheim, said to be in play. One imagines Philadelphia and Winnipeg should be able to agree on something if both parties are pressed, even if the Jets must then trade one of their surplus defencemen.
It’s pretty obvious the Senators are targeting a top-six forward this summer and Scheifele certainly checks a couple of boxes for Ottawa.
For starters, he’s produced at least a point per game in six consecutive seasons, so he would provide some much-needed, reliable scoring up front for Ottawa.
And his contract would be very palatable for Ottawa, with two years left on his deal at a $6.125 million cap hit. The Senators still need to sign young stars like Josh Norris, Tim Stützle and Jake Sanderson to long-term contracts in the next couple of years. By not being locked into a long-term deal, Scheifele would offer the Senators some flexibility here. He could step in and immediately help them take a step forward, while the club is not forced to keep him beyond the summer of 2024.
There are a couple of obvious red flags here that we should also point out. For starters, Scheifele holds a modified no-trade clause that allows him to submit a list of 10 destinations where he would not accept a trade. It’s probably safe to assume that Ottawa is on that list.
The other issue is that Scheifele is a natural centre and the Senators are pretty well stocked in that position with Norris and Stützle currently occupying the 1-2 slots. Would the Senators entertain the idea of moving someone to the wing if they could bring Scheifele into the mix? Maybe. But this would probably be even more intriguing if Scheifele was willing to move to the wing himself.
As for trade value, let’s start with the most obvious piece the Senators appear willing to trade: the No. 7 pick in the upcoming NHL Draft. Pierre Dorion has made it no secret that he’s willing to move that asset in return for some immediate help.
I think the Senators would be reluctant to part with Shane Pinto or Ridly Greig, but perhaps they could be enticed to move one of them if it’s in place of the No. 7 pick. But the Senators view both of those players in high regard, so they probably feel like it would have to be a home run deal if either of them is included. A couple of young defencemen such as Lassi Thomson or Jacob Bernard-Docker could be trade chips too. And if the Senators have a three-goalie situation staring them in the face next fall, it wouldn’t be shocking if Filip Gustavsson was included in a trade package.–Ian Mendes
Ates: The Senators are something of a dark horse for Scheifele’s services, given Norris and Stützle’s importance down the middle. If Scheifele plays centre, it could force Stützle to left wing or some alternate roster arrangement.
Still, it’s tough to look at a package built around the No. 7 pick and prospects which could address the future. Winnipeg could use some combination of the No. 7, No. 14 and No 30-32 picks to trade even higher into the first round or as part of a separate deal for a win-now centre to complement Dubois. The Jets could even make all three picks, stocking the prospect cupboards for years to come. Would this be enough for the Jets to feel they got value for their once surefire franchise centre? With two years on his contract and a likely desire to get paid an expensive and inefficient contract well into his 30s after that, I think it gets close.
(Photo of Brad Marchand and Mark Scheifele: Winslow Townson / USA Today)