Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Winnipeg Jets Already Looking Ahead

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The Winnipeg Jets are pretty much eliminated from the playoffs and although they’re still not mathematically eliminated they need a lot of help.

This team has grown by leaps and bounds since the coaching change that saw Paul Maurice come in to replace Claude Noel.  They have come together as a team and have played through injuries to key players this past month like Mark Scheifele and Zach Bogosian.

I love what Paul Maurice has done with this team in 20 games and I want to see him coaching next year, so Maurice’s kids, you’ll love school here, trust me!

Kevin Cheveldayoff has a lot of tough decisions to make with his team.  Olli Jokinen had a pretty decent season but do you make way for some of the younger players in this organization like Eric O’Dell, Adam Lowry or Patrice Cormier?  What about Nic Petan of the Portland Winterhawks?  He’s smaller but seems to be able to find the net; could you place him in the lineup instead of Devon Setoguchi who has been a healthy scratch for the last 2 games?  Ondrej Pavelec has come under a lot of scrutiny this year as well and are the few problems the Jets having simply goaltending?

Michael Frolik over shadows any of Cheveldayoff’s deals with Winnipeg 2.0.  What a steal to get this guy.  I want a player that is constantly talking to himself on the ice after he thinks he makes a mistake or misses a chance to score; you can see the determination on his face shift after shift.  A deal like this makes up for any deals that don’t pan out this year because he came here to improve the penalty kill, which jumping from the bottom 5 to the top 5 in one season is enough but to add 14 goals and 24 assists playing on the third line most of the season was huge.

Josh Morrissey is another good problem to have, this kid was one of the final cuts at training camp and with another year of junior under his belt, can he do what Jacob Trouba has done and make an impact his first year with the club?  He is still eligible for another year of junior and can’t play in St. John’s because of regulations for kids 19 years old, so it’s either Winnipeg or back to junior next year.

What about Grant Clitsome?  He was great last year, and had a tough start to the year this year and then got hurt and is out for the season.  Does he have a place on the team next year?

Let’s look at the team as a whole and considering they are going to be about 5 wins shy of a playoff berth give or take, how would they have ended up without key injuries at bad times?  I know the old saying, injuries are not an excuse, but you want to know something?  That’s a load of bull.  Of course injuries are an excuse!  Did I keep Mark Scheifele, Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba and Zach Bogosian around because they look good in a suit or because they’re great hockey players?  I want them to play because if they’re in the lineup I have a chance to win every game.

Zach Bogosian, Jacob Trouba, Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele are going to play in about 55 to 63 games this season because of injuries.  That’s your core of young guns missing at least 20 games each, do you think if they play in those games you win 5 more games?  I think so.  Matt Halischuk missed 2 months and although not a big scorer he’s a solid third line player and can chip in when needed.  James Wright isn’t a scorer but I think he’s a great penalty killer, he’s a guy I want out there in the last minute of a game because I can trust him to make the right decision and he can play any position and he’s a solid 4th line player and he’s been injured for a while now too.

Yes injuries are part of the game and this team doesn’t quite have the depth to sustain long periods of time without your core players.  They might have that depth in a year or two but right now it’s hard to fill in for dynamic players like Kane, Scheifele, Bogosian and Trouba.

Forget the injuries for a second and go over the games the Jets have played this year, how many games did the Jets not show up to play?  I’d say maybe 5.  Chicago twice early in the season, Dallas early in the season, Vancouver just recently and maybe one more if you want to get nitpicky.  To me that’s pretty consistent.  Some may say what about Ottawa, what about the Islanders, what about Carolina and the last game against Dallas; these are teams they should beat?  What about them?  Ottawa they dominated from start to finish and couldn’t get the win because of a solid goaltending performance from Craig Anderson and that happens.  The Islanders had a tough season and were missing John Tavares but that game against the Jets they played like they did in the playoffs the previous season against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Jets still could have won that game.  Carolina they dominated and were beaten by Eric Stall and Jordan Stall and of course Cam Ward who was spectacular in the first period.  Dallas they out played the Stars for the second straight game but Kari Lehtonen stole that game for them, so you can say they should beat the weaker teams point wise but let’s face it, there is no such thing as a weak team in this version of the NHL.  Anyone can beat anyone on any given night and if you go into a game thinking it’s an easy two points, you’re probably going to lose.

The Jets were involved in so many 1 goal games I can’t even keep count.  That means they are in every game and have a chance to win.

But what’s so impressive about this season is the way they played the top teams.  They out played St. Louis in most of the games.  They played with or better than Colorado, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Chicago late in the season and the San Jose Sharks, that to me is reason to think about the playoffs next season.

A lot of people are wanting some big trade to happen, but if you can see the forest for the trees why would you need to make a big trade when you can tinker a little with the lineup, let some of the young guys from St. John’s move up and if things don’t work out next year, then you can consider a big trade.  I always said give Cheveldayoff 5 years and let’s see what he can do; well I see huge leaps and bounds this year.  If they got to play in the same division as last year, they might be leading the division getting to play those teams more and having to play Los Angeles, Anaheim, Colorado, St. Louis and Chicago less, who knows?  I think the final few games you’re going to see some players in the minors get to play a few games and possibly see Michael Hutchinson start a game or two in goal.

Why would you give up on Kane?  This kid has it all, speed, size, aggressiveness, sniper and he’s only 23.  I remember a kid named Cam Neely coming off a year with the Vancouver Canucks where he scored 21 goals then dropped to 14 goals and they gave up on him, traded him to the Boston Bruins where he had three 50 or more goal seasons and was scoring at a goal game pace until he was injured by Ulf Samuelsson.  Do we really want to take a chance giving him away?  Trades aren’t easy to make and when you’re a team not in the playoff hunt, making trades aren’t easy.  Oh and this nonsense you hear from former NHL players like Jeff O’Neil (who was a career minus player and never won anything) that no one wants to come to Winnipeg is a load of garbage.  If you don’t want to play in a hockey town where you’re treated like a God wherever you go, where the city eats and sleeps hockey for the winter you’re not a hockey player in my mind, and we don’t want you here.  If it was good enough for Randy Carlyle, Thomas Steen, Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne, Hall of Famer Bobby Hull to play here it’s good enough for anyone.  This place has everything including a hot summer.

Blake Wheeler who is American by the way, has bought a home, according to the commercials I hear on the radio and is making this city his year round residence.  This is a guy that loves hockey and wants to be around the atmosphere of what a hockey town has to offer.  I honestly thought Wheeler was a little soft the first 2 seasons, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Wheeler is a guy I want on my team and he’s just starting to blossom into a star.  After watching him go chest first into an open door in Dallas and come back to play that shows the heart he has, and if he plays like that, which he has most of the season, the fans in this city will treat him like a star.  We want hockey players on this team, not prima donnas that just play hockey.

Dustin Byfuglien has shown that he has to be a forward, he is so strong and tough to handle in the offensive zone and what a bonus to put him on the point for the powerplay.  You can’t give up a player like that, he’s so valuable.  Most likely the best you’re going to do is get top draft picks and do we need more draft picks right now?  We have some good young players in the minors that are developing, no a trade of that magnitude you’d need top players back and that’s extremely hard to do.  By the way, big trade deadline moves have rarely worked out in the past.  I looked over the Stanley Cup winners since the 1999 season and only a handful of teams that won the cup made a huge blockbuster move at the trade deadline or anything significant except for maybe the New Jersey Devils in 2000, Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and maybe Los Angeles in 2012, 4 teams in 15 seasons.  Colorado Avalanche traded for Ray Bourque at the trade deadline in 2000 but didn’t win the cup until the following season.  These were teams except for Los Angeles that were coasting in first place looking to win a cup, not slip into the playoffs.

Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd have been pretty consistent all 3 years and they play against the tough lines game in and game out and hold their own but they are relied on too much for offense.  They get Scheifele scoring regularly along with Kane, and a third line center that chips in and consistent goaltending from their starter this team moves up the ladder fast.

Pavelec just came back from an injury and had a tough game against the Kings the other night and it’s a tough situation.  This guy has been unbelievable over the last 3 years, basically the reason they almost made the playoffs last year.  He has had a tough season, and Al Montoya has come in and played well when Pavelec needed a break.  But is Pavelec only good when he has to be?  What I mean by that is, some goalies need a lot of shots to shine, and the Jets are trying to eliminate scoring chances and some goaltenders don’t play well when they only get 25 shots a game, they don’t feel part of the team, and they find it tough to stay in those games and then they let in some soft ones.  Is Montoya a number one goalie?  Montoya coming in to relieve Pavelec played exceptional this year, but when the reigns were handed to him after Pavelec’s injury Montoya played ok but not like he did earlier in the season.  I think goaltending is going to be Cheveldayoff’s biggest concern next year; do you go with what you have and hope it was just an off year for Pavelec?  Players do have off years and I have seen Pavelec stand on his head pretty consistently 2 of the last 3 years.  I wouldn’t want to be in Cheveldayoff’s shoes but that’s why he gets paid the big bucks to make these hard decisions.

I like this team and I think a couple of tweaks here and there and this team is in the playoffs and once you get there who knows what can happen.

I just think it’s a little early to pull the plug on some of the young guns.  Because if you get over this hump at this young age, Winnipeg will have a winning tradition for years to come.

Notes:  The Jets have recalled goaltender Michael Hutchinson, defencemen Ben Chiarot and Zach Redmond today.

 

As always, thanks for reading. For more Winnipeg Jets conversation and live game updates follow us on twitter @hkyattheforks. 

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