As July 1 approaches the Jets approach will be to add size and toughness. For a team that for the most part last year had two second lines and two fourth lines they will have a chance to build a true third line via free agency and players available in St. John’s.
Assuming that Evander Kane is resigned we expect him to get a chance to play opposite Blake Wheeler on a true top line for the Jets. Who will be centering that could still be up for debate and baring a trade for a centre it’s likely to be Brian Little again. That could leave the second line looking like Nik Antropov paired back up with Alexander Burmistrov and Andrew Ladd. The true forth line for the Jets should be centered by Jim Slater and he’ll likely have Chris Thorburn on one side and many fans hope for the return of Tanner Glass on the other. If Glass does not return there is a call to add a player like Jordan Tootoo who can add a bit more offensive punch while filling the same role.
That leaves the third line as the biggest question mark and with this free agent crop it is also the area of the most depth. Aside from guys like Patrice Cornier and Spencer Machecek who may be ready for a big league shot, their long term development might be better served with one more year on the rock. Antti Miettinen should be improved with a full training camp under his belt but could still be a player that is in and out of the line up.
With a little over $11 million to spend to reach the cap floor we can assume at least $4 million of that will be going to Kane and $1 million to a back up goalie. So that leaves $6 million minimum the Jets need to spend, we know they aren’t going to land a Zach Parise at this stage but spending $2 million or so on three players to build a true third line could be the difference for the Jets making the playoffs or being a lottery team come the entry draft.
The Free Agent pool is weak but it has a plethora of veteran guys who can still get the job done and role players with some size and grit. In some cases both. Winger Dustin Penner has been a frustrating enigma for the Champion Kings the last two seasons but excelled in the post season and he now has two cups to his resume. He has both size and skill and if signed would be a solid base to build your third line around. He wouldn’t be expected to score at the rate he had in his younger days but his offensive output should be better than Tanner Glass.
Centerman Olli Jokinen is in the twilight of his career but he seemed rejuvenated when he was playing second/third line center minutes in Calgary last year and found himself back on the top line when the year was done. He has both size and speed and remains one of the smoothest skaters in the game. Adding him to center the third line would give the Jets some depth and size at a position they are thin and small on, plus he can still add some offense.
Knuble, Holmstrom, Whitney and Ryan Smyth are all available and while all are closer to retirement then their primes could all add some scoring and grit to a third line. In the case of Ray Whitney he could even move into a second line role as he led the Coyotes with 77 points last season. Blake Wheeler led the Jets with 64 points. Whitney and Smyth would likely command more than $2 million a piece as could Jokinen or Penner but spending a little bit extra to get some short-term relief for your third line is not a bad investment.
Colby Armstrong is another interesting case if he can stay healthy. Some of his best seasons were with the Thrashers back in Atlanta and if he could regain that form could push for second line minutes. One also can’t rule out Eric Fehr’s return as a possibility and while I suspect he’ll have a bounce back year wherever he’s playing there could be concerns about how soft he plays and cautious in the corners because of his history of shoulder troubles.
I’m sure the Jets are comfortable having Cormier centre Machecek and Miettinen on the third line but for both short and long-term benefits the Jets would be better served looking to buy a third line this summer and give their young top line players some veteran support both on and off the ice. You can’t tell me a guy like Evander Kane wouldn’t benefit from a hard-nosed grey beard in the room this season.