Since their resurrection in 2011, the Winnipeg Jets have been riding high on fan support and the excitement of being back in a city that had been mourning the loss of the original Jets to Phoenix in 1996.
But it appears the honeymoon is over. The fans want a winner. Being the new kid in town isn’t enough anymore. This Jets have some good players but something is missing in this team’s inability to make the playoffs.
This past January saw head coach Claude Noel let go and replaced by Paul Maurice. The team began to play better under the coaching of Maurice but it still wasn’t enough to make the playoffs. The Jets play in a tough division against the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues in the very powerful Western Conference that includes the California trio of the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks as well the now resurgent Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars.
But the quality of competition isn’t to blame. The Jets played in the much weaker Eastern Conference for two seasons and still couldn’t make the playoffs there either. As well, as much as people want to call this team young, they aren’t. They have the kind of players young and small teams like Edmonton would love to have. The team has plenty of players who are veterans in their mid to late twenties who have been around awhile and for the most part have size and skill. Captain Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Ondrej Pavelec aren’t fresh faced kids anymore. This core has underachieved as a unit and I’m thinking a shakeup is needed.
It is becoming apparent that Kane needs to be moved. A rare combination of size, skill and speed, Kane has had some off-ice controversies that have made more than a few Jets fans sour on him. The constant rumours are tiring and it’s time GM Kevin Cheveldayoff looks deeper into the trade market. As much as the Jets need a talent like Kane, it just doesn’t seem like it’s working out like it should. If Kane became available, I’m sure there will be quite a few GMs picking up the phone to inquire.
The next player that needs to go is goalie Pavelec. As much as the Jets insist he is a number one goalie, he sure doesn’t play like one. His numbers are terrible for an NHL goalie in general, even including backups, as his save percentage (.901) and goals against average (3.01) rank him 45th in the league in each category. Nowhere near good enough if the Jets hope to compete as a playoff team. The goaltending needs an upgrade first and foremost and I’m wondering if James Reimer of the Leafs would be a fit. He is an RFA and has requested a trade out of Toronto. In addition, he is a Manitoba native, which would act as a bit of a homecoming for him. If Pavelec stays, Reimer’s presence would give him the competition he perhaps needs.
But there are bright spots. Mark Scheifele is a very important piece going forward for the Jets. His size and skill are tailor-made for the top six and he was really coming into his own before a knee injury derailed his season. Defenceman Jacob Trouba looked impressive as a rookie on the blueline for the Jets and he has the potential to be a top two defenceman for them in the very near future.
On the prospect side, the team just drafted ultra-talented Halifax Mooseheads winger Nikolaj Ehlers at 9th overall. Defenceman Joshua Morrissey is growing by leaps and bounds. Despite his small size, forward Nicolas Petan continues to pile on the points for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. Goalies Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie have a lot of potential but they are still a few years away.
Overall, the Winnipeg Jets have promise moving forward and it’s obvious some changes will have to be made but, either way, they have to make some progress. The fans are getting antsy for their beloved Jets to have some success because as of right now, this is basically the Atlanta Thrashers Part Two. No more just missing the playoffs, they need to make it. For the Jets, it’s time to take off.
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