In his daily NHL Rumor Mill column today, Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey cites a few sources talking about the Winnipeg Jets and their need for changes, particularly at the blue line. It doesn’t look like the Jets will be making the playoffs this season, after being swept in four consecutive games by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round last summer.
Winnipeg Free Press’ Mark McIntyre and Sean Leahy of NBC Sports both feel like Jet’s General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to revamp the team’s defensive corp. McIntyre feels like the only untouchable on defense is Josh Morrissey and suggests that Brenden Dillon, Nate Schmidt, Dylan DeMelo and Neal Pionk should all be offered on the trade market.
Leahy believes that since Cheveldayoff isn’t the type of GM to toss around money in the free-agent market, revamping the defense will have to be done through trades as well. That and Winnipeg has historically never been a prime destination for free agents…
Gauging Habs interest
Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes has started to revamp his team’s defense and there is more to come this summer. Already gone are Ben Chiarot and Brett Kulak, and we know that Jeff Petry will likely be gone comes summer. They did acquire Justin Barron but he’s only 20 years old and even if the team judges that he can play at the NHL level, it would likely be in a limited role to start. They also signed Jordan Harris but like Barron, he needs time to develop and grow into a more major role.
Looking at the Jets, and considering Montreal’s depth chart and perhaps a need for young veteran leadership on the blue line, there is one name that would be extremely interesting for the Canadiens. Neal Pionk was acquired by the Jets back in the summer of 2019 from the New York Rangers, along with a first round pick (Ville Heinola), sending Jacob Trouba to New York.
Pionk is a solid puck-moving right-handed defenseman who can eat up top-4 minutes and play on the power play if need be. He makes smart decisions with the puck most of the time and makes good outlet passes. Good skater, he would fit in nicely with what the Canadiens are searching for in their style of play.
Pionk carries a cap hit of $5.875 million until 2024-25 which, for a top-4 defenseman, is fairly reasonable. The 26 year-old has 31 points in 69 games and averages 21:21 minutes of ice time. He was signed by the Rangers under, you guessed it… Jeff Gorton.