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Mirtle: Three key questions the Winnipeg Jets face this off-season

The Winnipeg Jets salute their fans after losing their playoff series to the Anaheim Ducks

Bruce Fedyck/USA Today Sports

No one in the Winnipeg Jets organization should be happy with being swept.

This team may have been up against a one seed, but they had a chance to make an impact in this franchise's first postseason in the city, and instead frittered away leads again and again.

A lot of their key players didn't have good series. A lot of the Anaheim Ducks' depth contributors did.

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Add in the fact that Ondrej Pavelec allowed 15 goals in four games (.891 save percentage) and Frederik Andersen allowed only nine (.924) and that was enough.

You can argue the Jets deserved a game out of the four; they didn't deserve much more than that.

"It wasn't the series we wanted to give our fans," coach Paul Maurice admitted.

Now, after taking a clear step forward in what was a 99-point regular season, the organization has some key questions to answer in the off-season after being the first team to bow out of the playoffs.

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1. What do they do in goal?

By all reasoning, Pavelec should have received a compliance buyout last summer. He was largely responsible for the Jets not being closer to the postseason a year ago, with a .901 save percentage in 57 starts dragging them down for a third straight season. (They missed by seven points.)

But with that as the back story, and with rookie Michael Hutchinson challenging him for starts, Pavelec posted a career year (.920) with a red-hot finish to get them to the playoffs.

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Where he struggled, especially in the decisive game on Wednesday.

Now what?

Winnipeg has Hutchinson signed for a bargain-basement deal for one more year. They've also got promising prospect Connor Hellebuyck coming, although he is only 21 and has played just the one year pro.

Pavelec, meanwhile, has two years remaining on his deal with a $3.9-million cap hit.

The bold call would be to make the move they wouldn't a year ago: Turn the page on Pavelec, who was far from their weak link but still one of several negative factors in this series. It's undeniable that he will remain a major question mark going into next season.

Given his strong year, it's possible he'll even have some trade value. And the organization also has Canadian world junior goalie Eric Comrie coming at some point.

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That would be one change they could make to change the mix. It could be a good opportunity to sell high and test some other options, without subtracting from what worked this season.

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2. Who stays and who goes on the blueline?

Winnipeg currently has 11 defencemen listed on its roster, and seven of those are signed next season: Toby Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Mark Stuart, Grant Clitsome, Jacob Trouba and Jay Harrison.

That doesn't include restricted free agents Ben Chiarot, Paul Postma and Keaton Ellerby, or 2013 first-rounder Josh Morrissey.

That's a lot of bodies, and there's obviously not room for all of them.

The addition of Myers late in the year also obviously changes the mix if you take a longer view – which the Jets are likely to do. There might be an opportunity to move out an Enstrom, Byfuglien or Stuart to open up ice time (and salary) for younger players.

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3. How ready are the kids to contribute?

This one is the biggie. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has done a great job of filling the prospect pool with not only the names above but forwards Nikolaj Ehlers (who had basically two points a game in the QMJHL), Nic Petan (another Canadian world junior star), Andrew Copp, Chase De Leo and others, some of whom can step right in and take spots vacated by UFAs like Jim Slater, Jiri Tlusty, Drew Stafford and Lee Stempniak.

It's a skilled group that should mix in with the size and experience they've already got.

More importantly, this is a roster with no key cog older than 30 (Byfuglien, Stuart and Enstrom are the only ones on the line), with a core that could foreseeably go deep in the postseason in the next two or three years with the right moves and development.

Trouba, who just turned 21, is going to get dramatically better and will likely be a stud No. 1 in that time frame. Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry are also in that age range and will learn a great deal from getting a taste of the postseason this young.

Realistically, Winnipeg has only a couple of adds that can't come from within for next season, and their cap situation is very favourable, with nearly $20-million available and only five players signed beyond 2017.

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They won't spend all of that, and they'll continue to preach the kind of patience that has put them in this situation. There are lessons to take out of this series – and re-evaluations needed on some of their veteran core that underperformed, with Byfuglien and Enstrom at the top of the list – but for the most part, this is a franchise headed in the right direction.

Yes, the Central Division is brutal, and Chicago and St. Louis aren't going anywhere. Minnesota has improved. Nashville, too. And Dallas and Colorado will push hard to get in that mix.

But if the Jets can solidify their goaltending, tinker with their D and their young players take steps forward, they are right there in that mix and should be back in the postseason soon.

Most likely with a better showing than this.

2015-16 JetsPos. Cap hit
1Wheeler, BlakeF5.600
2Little, BryanF4.700
3Ladd, AndrewF4.400
4Perreault, MathieuF3.000
5Thorburn, ChrisF1.200
6Scheifele, MarkF0.863
7Lowry, AdamF0.828
8Enstrom, TobiasD5.750
9Myers, TylerD5.500
10Byfuglien, DustinD5.200
11Stuart, MarkD2.625
12Clitsome, GrantD2.067
13Harrison, JayD1.500
14Trouba, JacobD0.894
15Pavelec, OndrejG3.900
16Hutchinson, MichaelG0.575
Total 48.6
Open spots
Forwards6
Key UFAsKey RFAs
Frolik, Slater, Tlusty, Halischuk, Pardy, Stafford, StempniakChiarot, Postma
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